Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Ellie the wonder pooch is getting older.

IMG_0152She doesn’t whine. She doesn’t groan. She doesn’t even grumble. But I know she’s hurting.

Where once, the minute I awoke she would eagerly look to see if I would let her out, give her a treat or simply greet her with a pet, she now lies quietly on her mat until I call her for breakfast.

Last night, rather than come sleep on her mat in the bedroom, she didn’t move from where she’d been lying all evening in the den.

She is getting older my Ellie the wonder pooch. She is getting older.

She was 9 weeks old when we brought her home. Alexis, Liseanne and their friend D. and I drove out to a small town south of the city to pick her up the day we were told she was ready to come home. It was a beautiful autumn day. Clear blue sky. Golden leaves falling. The mountains lining the western horizon like a dragon slumbering at the edge of the rolling foothills through which we drove to arrive at the ranch where Ellie had been born.

evening walks 008IMG_1159We’d already decided on her name. We needed to call her something ‘singerly’ as we’d picked her out the day Liseanne and I waited for Alexis at her very first workshop audition for The Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede. TYC is a singing/dancing troupe of aspiring performers that she performed with for 5 years and getting a scholarship to the performing school and being invited to join the troupe was a real coup.

We need to celebrate said Liseanne as we left the hall where Alexis would spend the day rehearsing and handed me the newspaper where she’d circled several ads for Golden Retriever puppies.

“But I didn’t say we were getting a dog,” I said.

“But mom! Alexis and I agreed on a Golden Retriever without even fighting about it. Shouldn’t you be rewarding us?” Or something like that.

Ellie's new bed

Needless to say, even though I hadn’t planned on getting another dog (I wrote  a blog about the last dog I had — a crazy Jack Russell terrier I’d adopted and eventually had to find a new home for. She was keraaaazzy!) there we were, one month after picking her from the litter, driving south and west to bring home our new family addition.

She was small and cuddly, her tummy a round soft bowl of squiggly fur that she loved to have tickled and rubbed. She’s named after Ella Fitzgerald but at first, the girls called her Buddha Bellie and the derivative, Ellie, stuck.

Ellie has been my ballast, my friend, my comforter, my guide for almost 13 years. She went through those dark final years of that relationship from hell, quietly padding beside me, leaning into me when I would sit and cry in the dark, laying her head on my lap when I would lie on my bed and not want to move.

For years, her favourite place to sleep was on the bed but in the past year jumping up is not something she’s able to do. Where once, jumping into the back of the car was a joyous precursor that inevitably lead to hours of running and wandering through her favourite parks, she can no longer make the leap. I started helping her into the lower back seat and now, have resorted to neighbourhood walks to avoid making her climb into the car.

She is slowing down. Arthritis is taking over her limbs.

And sadness is weighing down on my heart.

Last night I told a friend how I am living in the future with Ellie, dreading when she is gone. I need to come back to the moment, now, I said, to be with her here. I know the inevitable looms but I cannot look out there and start missing her already. I need to keep myself here. To treasure and be with her now.

and it’s hard.

IMG_1323So very, very hard.

But, she deserves my presence now. She deserves my being joyful with her now. She deserves my best. Right now.

And then I remember. Ellie is a garbage hound. Maybe she ate something she shouldn’t! Maybe she’s got the flu. Maybe a trip to the vet’s is all she needs to perk up.

But, I don’t want to take her to the vet. I fear being told something I don’t want to hear.

As my daughter wrote in her blog this morning about a completely separate matter, Avoidance strengthens fear.

I know that.

I’m the one who originally said it to her.

Dang.

Did she have to write that this morning?

Did she have to remind right now that I my fear is blocking my capacity to be brave, courageous and loving?

Because right now, the most loving thing for my Ellie is… to sit with her and be with her and take her to the doctor to see if maybe it’s just something other than age that’s bringing her down.

 

 


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How Fascinating!

It is one of those occasions. One of those mornings that doesn’t happen very often but when it does, I dance for joy.

I slept in.

Yup. Me. The one who awakens at 5:15am, without an alarm clock jarring me out of my slumbers, everyday — including on weekends. The one who needs 6 hours sleep every night. Who cannot get back to sleep once she awakens, even if she didn’t get to bed until after midnight.

That one. That me.

I slept in.

Which also means, I’m running late. Not a lot of time to write. No time to read. No time even to meditate — but I did it anyway because that’s an essential. My morning meditation is what sets my day up right. It’s what moves me into the day open-hearted and peaceful minded.

I just made it shorter than normal.

So, as I am late, and as I need to get running, right now, this post is short.

Which means, in lieu of my words, I’m sharing a video I believe worth watching.

I shared this one several years ago on my Recover Your Joy blog — it is one of my favourites.

From TED.com — Conductor Benjamin Zander has two infectious passions: classical music, and helping us realize our untapped love for it — and by extension, our untapped love for all new possibilities, new experiences, new connections. (Recorded March 2008 in Monterey, California. Duration: 20:46.)


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CDVC: November is Family Violence Prevention Month

cdvcI am speaking out against abuse on Friday at the launch of Family Violence Prevention Month 2013.

I am nervous.

I am grateful.

I am excited.

And I remember. All these emotions are present in my being present. They do not make me who I am. They are a measure of what I am feeling, in the moment. They are not me.

It was something I learned in my healing journey away from abuse. Anger is present. I am not anger. Sadness is present. I am not sadness. Regret is present. I am not regret.

Just as happiness, joy, gratitude are present. And in their presence I choose what I want more of in my life by choosing to breathe into those things that feed me, nurture, love and heal me. I choose where I shine my light.

Once upon a time I called myself an abused woman. It was not me. I did not own the abuse. I was not the abuse. I was a woman who was abused. It is not mine to hold onto, to claim, to own.

What is mine to hold onto, to claim, to own, is freedom. Freedom from abuse. Freedom from allowing another human being to determine my worth, to dictate my being free, to control my expression of me.

And in that expression I choose how my emotions control me. I choose how I control my emotions. I choose to set myself free.

in freedom, I accept and acknowledge and celebrate the fact that I create, permit or allow 100% of what is going on in my life. I am not a piece of flotsam tossed about by the waves of life, out of control, rudderless, directionless, powerless.

I am powerful beyond my wildest imaginings.

I am talented beyond my greatest dreams.

I have the capacity to make my own dreams come true and the ability to create the life I envision.

Isn’t that amazing? If I have that much power, if I am the one directing this ship, then I am capable of steering away from rough waters, and, weathering any storm. I am able to chart my course, change my path, adapt and shift my direction — as and when I choose.

No one has me locked down or dialled into the coordinates of my life. I do. it’s my choice to not change direction and to change direction. It’s my decision to take A to B or Y to Z.

It’s my life.

When I was in that relationship that was killing me, it didn’t feel like that. Like I had the power, because I didn’t. I had given it up. Allowed myself to fall so far into the distress and dis-ease of his abuse that I could no longer see or feel or even hear my voice of reason, my voice of knowing, my voice of power calling me to rise up and throw off the yoke of his abuse. I had become so blinded by the power of my fear of breaking free, I could not stand up and step free.

And so I fell.

It didn’t feel like a willing fall. It wasn’t that I wanted it to hurt so bad I couldn’t make it stop. It was that I had lost all sense of who I was, where I was, what I was doing and going and being. I was lost.

That’s the thing about abuse.  In its grip, you lose all sense of direction, all sense of self, all sense.

Abuse is insidious.

It kills.

Hopes. Dreams. Spirit. Lives.

It robs us of our will to live. It steals away our heart’s-desire to create, to conceive, to be free. It destroys self-worth, tears apart families, rips apart homes.

Abuse is wrong.

Stop it.

And if you can’t stop it, then get help. Reach out for support. Call someone. Talk to someone. Find someone, something to hold onto that will shine a light on the darkness of where you’re at so that you can find yourself swimming free of the dark and dangerous waters pulling you under.

Abused or abuser, abuse hurts.

Abused or abuser, there is help. Out there, beyond the dark, dank depths of the shame and fear and horror of what is happening in your life.

When I was in that relationship, I believed there was nowhere else for me to be, nowhere I could run to get away. I believed I was all alone.

I wasn’t alone. And there was lots that could be done to stop it. But I was too lost, too scared, too ashamed to see, it had to start with me. I had to choose to change directions, stop my drift and reset my course away from what was killing me.

I couldn’t do it alone. I didn’t have to.

I needed help and support to stop the abuse in my life. And in stopping it in my life, in you stopping it in yours, we create a ripple that begins to move out into the world inspiring change all over the place.

And that’s the thing about abuse — for it to be present, anywhere in the world, we must all in some way collude in its presence. For it to end, anywhere in the world, It takes all of us co-creating a world free of abuse to make it stop.


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No matter the weather.

IMG_4782Five more days. It’s all we needed. Five more days to get through October without snow and the weatherman blew it. And I mean big time blew it. Outside my office window this morning the world is covered in a soft, pristine blanket of white. Very pretty if it were the week before Christmas. Not so welcome now.

 

It is always a shock, that first snowfall. It’s as if, over summer and the beauty of autumn here at the foot of the Rockies, the entire city has collective amnesia. We forget. This is a northern clime. This is a place of four very distinct seasons. And no matter how hard we spend our time wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ it ain’t so, winter sweeps in with a cold blast of Arctic air long before we’re ready or mentally conditioned for its arrival.

IMG_4776Fortunately, C.C. and I spent Saturday raking the leaves up in our yard — before the snow fell.  At least when it melts, the lawn won’t be covered in a sodden mess of golden autumn colour. And it will melt. Soon. Even as soon as tomorrow when the temperature is predicted to climb back up into the positive side and stay there the rest of the week.

That’s the other thing about the weather in Calgary that is very very predictable. We spend a lot of time being angry with ‘the weatherman’ for getting it wrong. He predicted the snow — the forecast also said it would be in the plus side yesterday and today. Now… it’s not until tomorrow.

I mean really…

And that’s what makes me smile. Every time the snow flies. We take it so personally. We treat it as if we have some control, or at least the weatherman does, over what happens with the weather!

It snowed yesterday. C.C. and I stayed inside, cosy and warm. We read and chatted and I slipped out to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner with our daughters. And then the girls arrived and it didn’t really matter what the weather did. We got to bask in the warmth of family time.We got to share a meal and laughter sitting around the dining room table connected through the one thing the weather can’t change, ever. Love.

The weather is the weather. Living here at the foot of the Rockies, we have to enjoy it, no matter what, because it’s always bringing us something unexpected, something to laugh and complain about, distress and grumble over and sometimes, even enjoy.

And regardless of what’s going on with the weather outside, inside it is warm and toasty. Inside, love sets the table and prepares a meal to share with friends and family. Inside, our hearts beat for joy, no matter the weather, when we are connected in Love.

 


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Are you willing to shine?

What are you resisting? What greatness do you fear expressing? What inner beauty do you hesitate to unfold, hold or simply allow to be present in your life?

What are you resisting?

Long ago I did an exercise in a course I was taking that asked each participant to write their own eulogy.

It wasn’t easy. The voices of self-doubt, the one’s that leap into the fray of living brilliantly and say, oh you can’t say that about yourself, people will think you’re conceited, vain, uppity up, kept interfering with the process. Which was kind of funny when I really stopped to think about it. I mean really? I’m supposed to be dead when this thing is read and I’m still worried about other people’s opinions of me?

As part of the exercise we were invited to set the scene for our funeral. Where is it? What’s happening? Who’s there? Who’s not there that you would have liked to have had there?

That was the tough one. Who’s not there?  What did their not being there say about our relationship? What was left unresolved. Unforgiven? Incomplete?

That was the kicker, for my eulogy to express the truth about me in the future, I had to live my truth today, To leave this world without any discord lingering, to rest in peace, I would had to have dealt with the unresolveds. The unforgivens. The incompletes. Before I left.

How was I going to do it? What was I willing to give up to not leave these issues behind? What did I need to create, hold onto, let go of, make room for, to ensure every day was filled with what I want more of while I am living so that when the time of my passing comes I would leave behind only the best of me? Joy. Peace. Kindness. Love.

Tough questions to face when death seems far away — and yet, important questions to examine in the here and now if when the time comes, only the best of me ripples out into the ever after.

This morning, as I sat in meditation tendrils of that exercise and the eulogy I wrote drifted through my mind embodied in the question, What are you resisting stepping into Louise? What greatness are you not expressing? What story will you leave untold in the fear of shining brilliantly today?

I believe we are born great. Magnificent. Brilliant. We are created of these things. They are our essence.

And then life happens. The memory of our brilliance dims as we fall into the circumstances of our lives. We forget our magnificence is inherent in our being as we unfold our human condition into the comfort zone of playing it small, playing it safe, playing it ‘normal’.

What greatness am I not expressing? What doorway am I not entering? What threshold am I not crossing?

Great questions for me to breathe into as the day awakens and I step into my day holding onto nothing but the brilliance of the sunrise caressing my face reminding me that this is my one and only life. Live it up. Live it now. Be all that I’m meant to be in this moment, right now. It is all there is to hold onto. All there is to breathe into. This moment. What will I fill it with? What will I create? What am I being with all my heart?

I do not know the day and time of my passing. I do not know when death will come knocking. What I do know is that no matter how unexpected, or known that moment in time will be when all breath leaves my body and I am still forever more, to leave behind what I want more of in the world today, I must live the truth of my being who I am today in every moment. I must live in the now. I must let go of fear of my own brilliance and shine bright.

What are you resisting? Where are you hiding your light?

What are you willing to do to create a world of peace, harmony, Love and joy, right now.

Are you willing to let go of fear and shine in Love?

Are you willing to SHINE?

Please say yes!

 


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Premier’s Half-Time Show moves the ball forward on ending homelessness

Last night the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) held its annual Fundraiser. This year, the Premier’s Half-Time Show was a collaboration between CHF and the Calgary Stampeders. We are half-way through Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, and the Stampeders have crossed the 50 yard line towards their goal of winning the 2013 Grey Cup.

For both organizations, it is a long and winding road to get to the goalposts. It’s hard. Filled with bumps and hurdles, the unexpected and the unknown.

And still, we keep moving forward, keep forging on. Defeat is not an option. Giving up not on the agenda.

Last night, I stood with the 250+ guests in attendance and celebrated the work done to date, and acknowledged the work yet to come.

Sometimes, in the midst of the fray it’s hard to see the goal posts, it’s hard to know that every step on the journey matters. Which is why, sometimes, it’s important to take a time out and say, Hey! We’ve come a long way. Let’s not miss the markers on our path, let’s not forget to say, Job well done, so that we can tweak, redirect, and focus all our energies on the job ahead.

It matters. Every game. Every time out. Every win. Every loss. Every drop of the ball. Every completion. Every touchdown. Every point marked up on the score board matters. Because, at the end of the season, one team will win the Grey Cup. One team will cross that finish line and hoist the giant silver cup and celebrate their achievement. The dream is, the Stampeders will be that team.

And, in 2018, it will matter even more to the people we serve because, for CHF and all the agencies working towards ending homelessness,every step. Every win. Every move forward matters in their lives.

Homelessness is not okay. One single person homeless on our streets means, we dropped the ball. We lost the play.

We are just over half way there. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. There’s still much to build and create and get done if we are to achieve our goal and cross the finish line.

Looking back on the first five years of the Plan, it’s easy to see where we’ve fumbled, where we’ve dropped the ball, where we’ve missed a play. And, while we may not have a scoreboard flashing out wins over losses, we do have markers of our success that also show where we’ve picked up the ball and gained yards, where we’ve intercepted a play and turned the tide of the game towards our finish line of having the resources and programs and system of care in place that by the 2018 no one entering a shelter will stay longer than 7 days before being redirected back home.

The game is on!

Like the Stampeders who make every play count, we have to be on top of our game every step we take. We can’t afford to falter. We can’t afford to sit on the side lines and wait for the ball to come to us. We have to be on the streets, under bridges, in the shelters, in every nook and cranny of our city lighting the path for everyone to come home.

Because no matter

We celebrated and raised funds (nearly $200,000!) and recommitted last night to the road ahead. It matters that we are carrying this ball, it matters  what we do every day towards reaching the goal posts of ending homelessness because, lives depend on us every step of the way.


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Not having an answer to homelessness isn’t good enough

She is walking towards me deep in conversation with another woman. She is animated. Expressive. Her whole body engaged in her conversation. It is a warm October afternoon but she is dressed for colder weather. Toque. Mitts. Big heavy winter jacket. Blue with a fake fur collar. Khaki pants tucked into the tops of laced up black walking boots, the kind you’d picture if someone said, “your mother wears army boots,” in an attempt to dis you.

As we pass she looks at me. I smile. She stops. Calls out. “Hi! How are you? Haven’t seen you in awhile.” She darts between two passers-by and comes to a full stop in front of me. “Where do I know you from?” Before I can answer she blurts out her response. “The Women’s Centre! That’s where.”

I start to correct her. I’m not sure I know her but perhaps it was the shelter where I used to work, but her words keep rattling out towards me like a woodpecker digging into bark. “You still there? I sure hope so. You stood out. You always do. It’s why I noticed you on the street.”

Again I attempt to correct her, to tell her I don’t think we’ve met and then I let it go. Sometimes, people just want to be heard.

She tells me about her husband. ‘The abusive bastard’. They put him in the ground three years ago. That’s how she says it. Put him in the ground. I wasn’t there. No f*cking way, and her expletive is loud enough it startles someone walking by. They skirt our little tableau where we stand at the corner of the avenue where the C-train rumbles by.

She tells me the story of how he kept her locked up on 149 acres. Sixteen years I suffered, she says. How she’s lost a son to suicide. Hung himself. Why would he do that? she asks.

I hope she doesn’t expect an answer from me. I don’t have one.

She’s lost another to cancer and the third, well, the good for nothing, and again she inserts a loud expletive, is in jail. Just like his father. She says. And she shakes her head making her salt and pepper curls bob up and down. “How come I couldn’t do nothing good in the world?” she asks. “Tell me that? How come?”

I am grateful she keeps on talking without waiting for an answer. I don’t have one.

She shares more of her story. Dates. Places. Names. They are written on her memory, streaming out in a continuous tide of re-telling. She animates her conversation. Bounces from one spot to another in front of me. One moment up close, almost whispering in my ear, the next stepping far back. “You stay there,” she says. And I wonder, does she mean me or is the statement part of her story.

She talks about the Catholic school she attended as a child. The abuse. The nuns. The priests. She points to two tall brick buildings down the avenue from where we stand. “Big as those,” she says. “I had to walk in and tell them I was there to demand an apology for my sister. She was one pound when she was born. You could hold her in the palm of your hand.” And she cups one hand holding it out towards me like a child begging for alms. “She was that little. I had to protect her. I had to get her away from them.”

She breathes and I look into her eyes and say, “It sounds like life was very hard for you.”

“You don’t f*cking know the half of it,” she sputters and continues on with her story. Jumping from her sister to one of her other 10 siblings. “Only 8 of us survived the first years of our lives,” she says. “There just wasn’t enough to go around.”

“I seen my sister just before she died,” she says. And she moves in real close to my right ear and whispers. “I walked up to her bed, she was so sick, so close to dying, and I said, ‘Terry’, real soft like. She knew it was me. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She knew it was me.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. It is all I can think of to offer her in way of comfort.

“Nah. She’s better off dead.” And she continues on re-telling stories of her life. A 1963 GrandAm she once owned. A shotgun that belonged to her husband that he used to threaten her with until she gave it, along with his other 20 guns, to the police.

“He told them he was a collector. Insisted they give them back. I got away though. Took the bus to Edmonton. I’m a registered LPN. I’m not stupid you know. They tell me I’m bipolar. F*cking baztards. What do they know? I’m 74. Of course I have moods.”

Another C-train rolls by and I know I have to go. Ellie the wonder pooch is waiting for me at home. She’ll be anxious for her dinner.

“Hey! I’m glad I saw you,” she says. “You listen good but you gotta speak up good too. For others. Will you do that for me? Speak up? Get us some justice? I got a place now but ya’ know, there’s so many who don’t. Will you make sure they get a chance?”

“I’ll do my best,” I tell her.

And we part and move in our separate directions and I carry her story with me. I wonder how she got so lost. How life could have been so difficult and still she clings to it, fights for it, and others.

And I wonder, what is the best for someone who’s needs are so complex, whose mental health is so fragile that they would reach out to a relative stranger and tell them their story standing on a street corner? How can my best do anything to offset the demands of a life lived on the edges?

And I know, Not having an answer to homelessness and abuse and lack of support for mental health issues isn’t good enough anymore. We can’t keep pushing the problem along, sweeping it into shelters or someone else’s backyard. We’ve got to speak up, give voice, stand up for those who have been beaten down so far they no longer have the strength to do it alone. We gotta do it together. All of us.