Trapped inside, her song stayed silent

Hidden Consequences Mixed Media 24" x 30" 2016 Louise Gallagher
Hidden Consequences
Mixed Media
24″ x 30″
2016 Louise Gallagher

Flying free, she left her voice behind and her song stayed trapped within her.

“Is there a subliminal message in this painting mom?” my eldest daughter asks me.

“I suppose there is,” I tell her.

“It feels sad, at least the words do,” she says.

I explain how it was not intentional. That the painting began as a tree. In the art of painting over, the tree became something else until what appeared was an empty birdcage and a bird on the outside and the words, Flying free, she left her voice behind and her song stayed trapped within her.

But inside the cage, the bird’s song remains trapped.

It was the bird’s song that landed her in the cage in the first place. Giddy with the feeling of the sun on her feathers and the gentle spring breeze beneath her wings, she sat on a branch and sang and sang and sang.

Just then, a young boy walked by and heard her singing. Entranced by her song, he decided to capture her and put her in a cage. That way, thought the boy, he would always be able to enjoy the bird’s song all the time.

Trapped inside a cage, the bird could not sing. She was too sad. She yearned for freedom.

Over time, the bird completely forgot about its song. She completely forgot what freedom felt like.

As time moved on, the boy forgot why he had her, or even how she ended up in the cage in his room, until one day, he grew up and moved away to another country. He could not take the bird with him so he set her free.

Frightened by her new found freedom, she clung to a branch as if her life depended upon it. Day after day she sat on the branch waiting for the boy to come and feed her.

He never came.

Finally, hunger overcame her and the bird did the only thing she could think of to do. She let go of the branch and fell to the ground. She didn’t know she had wings to fly. She didn’t know she had a song to sing.

Lying on the ground, a cat came upon her. Thinking she was dead, he ignored her and lay down in the warm spring sunshine. The bird, after recovering from her fall, woke up and spied the cat sitting beside her. She sat up and in that movement, the cat realized the bird was not dead. He pounced.

This was a real and very present danger, the bird realized.

She had to move. Fast.

It was the suddenness of the cat’s movement that saved her. Startled, she did what came naturally. She spread her wings and flew away. In her delight at flying, she opened her mouth and the beautiful notes of her song, trapped inside for so long, came pouring out.

I have been thinking of things left behind.

How sometimes, beneath life’s burdens, we leave behind the things that mean the most to us  in our efforts to run away from what hurts us. We tell ourselves, it was our speaking out, our singing, our dancing, our being wild that got us into trouble in the first place.

So we tamper them down. We lock away our voices, our songs, our dances and walk the straight and narrow.

We tell ourselves, “this will keep me safe.”

The safety of silence is an illusion.

When we refuse to break free of silence, when we allow the past to keep our voices and our bodies still in the present, we are holding ourselves trapped in the fear of the past repeating itself in the present.

We cannot know freedom when we are too afraid to speak up, speak out, speak freely against the things that held us down.

Until we let go of fearing the power of our own voices, our song will remain trapped inside us.


I had trouble getting to sleep last night, and so, I wrote this story at 2am, pouring my mind out into the night.

I fell asleep easily afterwards to discover this morning, I was responding to this writing prompt:



How to fit in to being a real woman.

To the rest of the world it was dubbed, “The Summer of Love”. There was no social media outpouring, no Instagram shots memorializing the events, no tweets, no blogs advertising the date and time. There was just a movement. A groundswell of information passed mouth to mouth. Bringing people together. Young people mostly. 75,000 of them congregating in a few blocks area of San Francisco. Haight Ashbury where they would set in motion a revolution of the psychedelic kind that would set love free on raised consciousness and stranger sex.

Across the continent and over the ocean, I was oblivious to the Summer of Love. I had Paris. My Summer of Paris.

And I was cool. Not for me long velvet dresses paired with lace up boots dancing with spiffed up young men dressed in riding coats and top hats.

I had my hip-hugger, turquoise bell-bottom pants and my white poor-boy sweater. I had my twill quadrilles and my white patent leather purse. I had my sitting at a sidewalk cafe looking bored, like I fit in, like I was waiting to be discovered caffe lattes made with hot chocolate because, well, I was only 13 and 13 year olds did not drink coffee in the summer of 1967.

Life was calling my name. I could feel it. Sense it. I hungered for it. Yearned for it that Summer of Paris. I was 13 going on… 13. I knew nothing about being a woman. I was awash in a sea of knowinglessness and I was hungry. I wanted to know. Everything. Especially about sex. Same sex. Opposite sex. Going down sex. Going anywhere sex, maybe even the moon. I wanted to know it all but didn’t have the language, didn’t know the words to even phrase the questions to ask. And good girls didn’t ask anyway so I stayed silent.

I was an island of nothing other than my hip-hugger, turquoise bell bottom pants and white poor-boy sweater that I’d purchased in a tiny boutique somewhere near the Avenue des Champs-Élysées where every day my sister and I spent hours trolling the streets soaking in everything French.

And American too.

Like youth the world over, we gravitated to the familiar, the known, ‘our own’. And American boys were hot that Summer of Paris. Even if all we ever did was give them directions when they were lost, or pretend to be lost when we wanted to meet some cute young American boy selling the International Herald Tribune outside the entrance to the Gard du Nord on Avenue la Fayette where we would catch the Métro just to see him.

We were in love with all things ‘l’Americaine that summer of Paris. Especially the boys.

They were all blond and blue-eyed and fresh cut and seemingly pure in their white cotton striped shirts with the button down collars and cuffs rolled up to reveal the soft downy blond hair of their arms.

They had perfect smiles. And perfect accents and we wanted to be perfect for them.

Alas, we weren’t French and so we were relegated to giving them directions to the Tour Eiffel or perhaps le Louvre. Though I do have a dim recollection of my sister scoring a date with some young boy. I remember vaguely disappearing on my own near Sacre Coeur as she sat and sipped her Chocolate Chaud and listened earnestly while some blond haired Adonis made her laugh where they sat together, her dark haired head bent close towards his blond. I don’t think their hands even touched, or that they even kissed.

And I was so disappointed. She was my older sister. She was supposed to teach me the ways of being a real woman.

It was not to be.

The ways of being a real woman would not reveal themselves until many decades later.

After I rid myself of the notion that hip-hugger, turquoise bell bottoms and a white poor-boy sweater would buy me entrance to a world where to fit in I just had to be like everyone else.

After I quit playing lost just to get directions from a blue-eyed blond-haired boy who spoke not a word of French and did not know his way around Paris let alone the world.

Why I thought blue-eyed boys or tall dark strangers held the secret to my being a real woman is the stuff of history. The stuff of a patriarchal system where women had no voice. Where women had no thoughts worth hearing. Where women only belonged when they stood silently beside their man and smiled. Convincingly. Like they were everything they ever dreamt of being because they had ‘their man’ and their man was the only god they ever needed to know because their man was better than her man, that one over there who smiles just as convincingly but who also holds that vacant, frightened, empty look in her eyes that says silently, because no one was listening anyway, “Is this all there is?”

Hell no!

But it would take many broken dreams and shattered ideals to discover, the only way to be a real woman was to give up the idea, that to belong, I just needed to wear a size 8 or 6 or 4 or 2 or any size of turquoise hip-hugger bell bottom pants.

I don’t have to wear anything to make me fit in because I know, I am a real woman when I fearlessly speak my truth without tampering it down to fit into someone else’s.

I am a real woman when I quit pretending I am lost in a world of confusion.

I am a real woman when I fit in to being me.



Words of Affirmation| 52 Acts of Grace | Week 2

acts of grac Week 2

Last weeks act of grace was to share a smile, a stranger, a co-worker, a store-keeper. Share a smile and really feel its value.

As I travelled on the C-train, walked along the street I learned an interesting lesson — it’s hard to share smiles when people’s faces are turned down so they can read things on the tiny screen of their cell phones.

It is an ubiquitous posture. People sit, stand, walk, head down, chin tucked in, hands in front holding a tiny cell phone.

It’s hard to catch their eyes.

Except for the three people sitting on the bench on the sidewalk at the end of the block near my office. Their eyes were easy to catch. Two of them sat on the bench, one of them lay on the ground straight out across the sidewalk in front of the bench.

His eyes were closed. I wasn’t sure if he was hurt, sleeping, passed out…

As I walked up I stopped to ask the two people on the bench. “Is he okay? Does he need help?”

They smiled at me. Waved their hands in the air as if to say, “Nah. Everything’s okay.”

The man on the ground opened his eyes at the sound of my voice. Sat up.

“Do you need any help?” I asked him.

“I need five bucks!” he said, his voice filled with enthusiasm.

I laughed out loud and replied, “So do I!”

And we laughed together.

He got up to sit on the bench.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” I told him before continuing on my way, the sound of his laughter ringing behind me.

A few other people did smile back during the week. The C-train driver whom I waved at and smiled as the train pulled into the station.

The woman running towards the doors as I held them open for her.

The man I smiled at when he stood to let a mother and child have his seat.

The woman on an elevator who like me, was wearing shoes, no socks, even though it was a frosty morning. We had a lovely chat about our desire to believe it’s spring.

The woman at the street corner waiting for the same pedestrian light to change.

But it was stunning to see how many people were so engrossed in the small screen they held in their hands.

Note to self: Do less looking at my cell phone. Do more smiling at people.



In the aftermath of Brussels, what have we learned?

I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith.

My mother was devout. My father less so. His rebellious nature often interfered with his capacity to follow what he called the constricting dogma of an out of date Papal system that made itself wealthy on the backs of the poor.

I often thought my father had a Robin Hood complex. He liked the idea of taking from the rich to give to the poor. A lot.

As a child, we lived in Calgary before moving to Europe where I spent my pre-teens to twenties. In fact, we live in the same neighbourhood where I once lived. The school where I attended grades 2 and 3 is just down the street from our home. The house we lived in when I was a child is not too far away on the other side of the school.

As children, my sister Anne and I, would walk from home to school together.

While the walk wasn’t far, I remember constantly feeling at risk. It felt like a treacherous walk.  Not because we had to cross major traffic routes or anything. It was all because our route took us past ‘the Protestant school’. That’s what it was called back then before diversity embedded itself in our culture and the School Board names changed to “Public” and “Separate” (which is what the Catholic system is now called).

To get to our school Anne and I had two options. Stay on the sidewalk and go the long way around or, cut through the ‘Protestant School’ playground.

On the days when we felt daring, we would cut across the Protestant schoolyard which adjoined our school’s playground. Inevitably, our walk included suffering through the insults and slurs flung at us for being ‘Catholic’ kids.

I could never figure it out. Why would the fact we were Roman Catholic cause kids who didn’t even know us to pick on us?

My mother, ever the peace-maker, told us to turn the other cheek. To not retaliate. To not respond. To just keep walking.

And so we did.

I’d love to tell you there was some seminal moment when an encounter on that shared field of our playful youth caused our Catholic roots to dig into the Protestant ground where together, we planted seeds of harmony, but I don’t recall that ever happening. I don’t actually remember ever speaking to one of ‘those kids’ who was not of the same faith but looked just the same as us. We were told not to. They were ‘the Protestant kids’ and thus, the distance between us too great to cross.

About the only time we did flex our Roman Catholic muscles was on those days when our school was not in session because of a Saint’s holiday. On those mornings, from the safety of our second floor bedroom my sister and I would lean out the window and make fun of the ‘Protestant’ kids walking off to school. Though we could often not name the Saint whose memory gave us the day off, we took great delight in rubbing our bonus days into those who did not share the benefit of multiple Saints’ holidays throughout the year.

Many years have passed since those days of fearing walking through a playground of kids of another faith. And still, I can remember how scary it felt to walk through their midst. I can still remember the feelings of feeling different, not fitting in, being called out because, while we worshipped the same God, our way of worship was different.

And I wonder, in the aftermath of Brussels, what have we learned?

How ridiculed, isolated, marginalized and traumatized must some young man be to believe his legacy of passing through this life is best expressed by leaving a path of destruction in the wake of blowing himself up?

And I fear, not much has changed since I quite walking across that childhood playground, except the distance between us has lengthened pulling us further away from finding common ground in our humanity.

As the death toll continues to climb I pray we find the grace to put down our words of condemnation, our weapons of mass destruction and killing ways. In lowering our arms, I pray that we open our eyes and minds and hearts to see that no matter the damage we have done to one another, in our shared human condition we have the power to heal when we choose to walk in peace.

How to stay present in this moment, right now.

Time has a way of passing even when I’m busy doing nothing.

At least, that’s how it feels on mornings like today when I get caught up in reading newsfeeds and other blogs and then look at the time and realize — oh my! I am already late.

Okay. maybe not late, but definitely behind time in writing and getting ready.

I should be finished by now.

It seems to be my mantra some days.  My shoulda’s keep me stuck in the land of ‘Coulda’s if only…’.

Sometimes, it’s just the creative process. It doesn’t just magically happen. It happens best when I am centered on being present. Sometimes, it’s totally because I am not present in this moment right now, leaning too far into the river of coulda’s and shoulda’s and if only’s and what if’s…

Being present doesn’t mean, here I am, take me as I am, this is all I got to give right now.

Being present means not being distracted by those errant thoughts that like to run interference when I’m in the process of pausing between each breath to stay present in the moment.

Being present means, not letting the past drag me into the flow of memory. Not letting it keep me mired in what if’s and if only’s.

Imagine the past is a river flowing constantly in front of you. Imagine you are fly-fishing in that river.

Now, imagine, you cast your line into the river. It curves beautifully in the sunshine, shimmering in the light. The lure hits the water and is immediately dragged further away. You pull back on the line, the arc increases as the river pulls harder.

You resist.

You pull back. Reel in and out, constantly fighting against the flow of the river.

Memory is like that. It lures you in. Pulls against you. Drags you with it.

Now imagine, you reel in the line. Imagine you tuck the lure safely against the rod, lock it all up together and set it aside on the river’s bank and continue walking in the beautiful warm sunshine.

That’s my task for today. To let go of the reel. To not bother with casting my line into memory’s river. To not be dragged into negative thoughts or reflections of coulda’s, shoulda’s, what if’s and if only’s.

What about you?

Are you willing to let go of the line pulling you into negative thinking, what if’s and if only’s?

Are you willing to set the rod and reel aside so that you can walk freely in this moment right now treasuring the wonder and awe all around you?

Let’s do it.



Cool. This post took me 15 minutes to write. In keeping with my desire to stay present, I will let it stand without judgement. I will not edit. I will continue on with my day, treasuring walking in the light of being present.



Brussels: I send you Love. Always.

I know it is not good news even before I see the contents of the posts.

Three posts pop up the minute I open my email. They each contain the same word. Brussels.

I read the headlines. I read the stories. I search for more. I want to make sense of this senselessness.

My heart sinks. There is no sense to terror.

I want to cry. To scream out. To yell at someone to STOP IT! Just STOP IT.

And I know it is of no use.

Terror does not hear the voice of reason.

Terror only hears the voices of fear. Of Anger. Of Terror.

34 dead thus far in the bombings in Brussels.

And my heart is heavy.

When will we stop? When will we learn? When will we begin again to travel freely in this world without fear of one another.

And I wonder, Was it ever that way?

Was there ever a time in humankind’s history that we did not resort to violence? That we did not kill one another?

Was there ever a time of peace?

I go in search of data to make sense of my unease.

It is sobering. Over 10,000 people killed this year in conflicts around the globe.

The data does not help me feel better about the state of our world. Of the 196 countries that make up our world Global Conflict Tracker lists 26 countries engaged in conflicts (that impact the U.S.) significant enough to cause concern about the stability of the region, the country, the people’s ability to feel safe within their own border.

Please note: Global Conflict Tracker lists the countries in order of significance to the interests of the U.S.

7 conflicts of ‘critical impact on U.S. Interests’.
10 of ‘Significant impact on U.S. Interests’.
9 of ‘Limited Impact on U.S. Interests’.

This morning, the battle spilt out from beyond the boundaries of rational thought into the streets of Brussels. Its impact can be felt around the world.

I do not know how to make ‘them’ stop. Who are the ‘them’?

And then I remember. They are we and we are them. We are one human condition. One planet. One world. It is not ‘them’ versus us. It is our world that is decimated by these bombs and conflicts. Our world that is torn apart.

The loss of the lives killed in this latest attack will be felt around the globe.

They are touching me now.

And my heart is heavy.

I do not have an answer. I do not have words to ease the pain of the families and loved ones and friends left behind to mourn this sudden and inexplicable death of those they love.

I have no words.

And so, I do the only thing I know that I can do to make a difference.

I turn my back on war. I turn my back on the bloodshed and the chaos, and deepen my commitment to walk this day in Love and Peace. To walk each moment with a soft heart, voice, mind.

I cannot change the course of the 26 conflicts listed on Global Conflict Tracker’s site.

I can only ensure that what I do today does not contribute to war, to conflict, to anger, to fear.

And so, I chose love over fear. Always.

I am sorry Brussels for your pain. I am sorry for the terror that has erupted in your city. Your hearts. Your minds.

I send you Love. Always.