“I am grateful for second chances,” he says, a little smile pulling up the corners of his lips, his head nodding up and down. He reminds me a bit of Father Christmas, snow white hair and beard, neatly trimmed. Round cheeks, eyes crinkling at the corners. A quiet, gentle demeanour.
He is a resident at The Madison, the apartment building owned by the Calgary Homeless Foundation and operated by Alpha House in support of formerly homeless veterans.
It is Thanksgiving, and we have gathered together to share a traditional meal on this special day.
His comment hits my heart, softening the edges, seeping into the cracks where ennui and apathy would grow if I didn’t believe so strongly that giving is receiving. I give and receive comments like his. Comments that remind me to give thanks for my second chances. That we all deserve them. That we are not destined to live in sorrow and pain. We are designed to live in Love and joy. It’s just life sometimes gets in the way of our remembering our birthright.
Second chances give us back our memory of who we truly are.
One of the dinner guests suggests that we follow the tradition of going around the table with each person stating one thing they are grateful for. I love this tradition. Believe it is powerful and courageous act to put words to our gratitude and express them aloud.
We begin going around the table. First ‘the young people’ suggests the man who has asked that we follow tradition. That means my daughter (who baked pumpkin pie complete with lovely boxes and labels!) and two friends who cooked up candied yams and mashed potatoes and have come to help out with serving up dinner. Next, Diana who has prepared a delicious carrot salad that creates a centrepiece of colourful orange and white and yellow and green in the centre of the table. And then C.C. and then me. Family. Elders who guide me in the world. Friends. Being together. Being here. Laughter. Love. My family. My education. My job. My life. Our gratitude is wide and deep. So much abundance. So many gifts and people to be grateful for.
And then we move to the table where the white bearded man begins. He doesn’t hesitate. He quietly says the words and takes a breath. “I am grateful for second chances.” There is a moment of awe-filled silence after he speaks. He bows his head. Closes his eyes. This is deep-seated gratitude. Heart-driven.
We silently take in his words. We are all grateful for second chances. His. Our own. One’s we’ve experienced. One’s yet to come. The world is filled with second chances. We are grateful.
And the voices continue around the circle. Each person sharing from their hearts what they are grateful for. And each connects back to what the second chance of the Madison means for them.
Not dying on the streets.
Not living in a shelter any more.
No longer fearing what tomorrow may bring.
Having people who care, a place of my own, a door to close where I am safe. A community. Men to share my stories, laughter, a smoke. Staff who see me. Know me. Treat me well.
This place. Ah yes, this place. The Madison. And all the heads nod in agreement. Smiles lift the corners of everyone’s mouths. This place. Yes. We are all grateful for this place.
I was humbled yesterday. Humbled and touched, my heart broken open in gratitude and love. My being enveloped in all that connects us, all that makes us human in this shared condition of life.
I was grateful for C.C. getting up early with me to get the turkey into the oven. For walking with Ellie and me to the grocery store to pick up some extra vegetables without suggesting “you’ve got enough food Louise”.– Is there ever such a thing as too much food on a Thanksgiving table?
I am grateful for my daughter stopping at the grocery store on her way to join us to pick up a last minute forgotten item and for CJ and her friend for their willingness to come and be part of the gathering, especially as her friend is in the military and is going off for basic training in a couple of weeks time. He sat and laughed and chatted and shared stories with the men and I felt warmed by his capacity to connect in such a meaningful way. And for my dear friend Diana who arrived early and cleaned vegetables and laughed and joked with everyone and who seemed as if she’s been part of this gathering always and who offered to be part of this gathering again.
I am grateful.
There were a couple of new faces at the table this time. Two of the men have passed away since last I was there. I am grateful that for whatever time was possible, those who have gone had the opportunity to experience their second chance so that in whatever time they had, they could remember who they truly are. Magnificent human beings. Born to shine. Designed to live in Love and joy.
I am grateful.