Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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How do we build a kinder society?

How do we build a kinder society?

An interesting question. The answer is complicated. The answer is simple.

Be kind.

But on the complicated side there’s all this stuff around violence and wars and guns and bombs and violence again and more bombs and more killings and more guns going off in the hands of children who do not know anything other than to follow the ones who tell them to kill in the name of a god who is weeping at the sight of our inhumanity to one another. A god who cries in vain at the wars we fight in the name of righteousness, in the name of freedom. A god who closes its eyes in despair at our insistence that we feed our children drugs so they do not feel or know or recognize the horror of what we are forcing them to do.

In the name of God, when will we stop?

We, the humans of this world, have a long history of doing the wrong thing.

We have a history of stealing land, your land, my land. We have a history filled with genocide, colonialism, capitalism, oligarchies and monarchies, dictatorships and abuse of power and misanthropy and all kinds of power struggles that have left people feeling under foot, trodden down and disadvantaged.

This the history of our world. Centuries of it. Thousands of years to perfect the art of taking power, holding power, creating dynasties to hold onto power because power is everything we need to be in control. Power is the altar at which we supplicate ourselves to the gods of lording it all over the masses.

Because, there is always us.

The masses. The individuals who make up this swarming sea of humanity. The ones upon whom the yoke of servitude to a ‘greater cause’, a faith, a church have driven into the folds of conformity to a belief that holds us fast. A belief that dictates our way is the right way, which automatically makes your way wrong, so don’t bother to tell me how your way can be better. There is no way, no room, no space for dissension.

Ah yes, we are the one’s we have been waiting for. We are the one’s who yearn for a kinder society, who pray for peace while holding onto our belief that there is no way for peace until we have our way with the world.

How do you build a kinder world?

One act at a time. One decision. One step. One gesture after another that stops violence, war, anger, fear from growing. One word after another that flows away from hatred into acceptance of one another as human beings, each of us worthy of dignity, kindness, generosity of spirit and Love.

You build a kinder world by becoming and being and giving only your best. by choosing to step away from calling people names. By choosing to stop repeating words of anger, hatred, disgust about people whose only crime is to be different than you.

You build a kinder world by no longer buying into the belief that to have it all means someone else has to have nothing, or is nothing more than a piece of flesh here on earth only because gravity won’t let them go.

You build a kinder world by moving into compassion. By seeing through eyes of love into the hearts of those around you knowing, their hearts, their blood, their bodies were created in the same way yours and mine were created. Through the miracle of life on earth.

We are all part of this mystery. All part of the miracle. We are all human beings. You. Me. Them. Us.

Building a kinder world begins right now, right here, when each of us decides to do the kindest thing possible to make peace possible on this planet we share. Love one another as if we belong to one another. Because we do.

 

 

 

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When one man stands tall, we all rise up: ending homelessness.

It will be home to 30 individuals with long-term lived experience of homelessness.

Housing. Supports. Community. Possibility.

These things will be there too.

Yesterday, we celebrated the official opening of Stepping Stone Manor, a 30 unit permanent housing apartment building with supports for individuals exiting chronic homelessness in our city. Dignitaries, builders from the RESOLVE Campaign who are supporting the building of an additional 7 – 10 more such buildings in our city, agency partners, neighbours, all came out to be part of the celebration.

Those who spoke had great words to say. About how we need more affordable housing. How ending homelessness begins with housing first. How people experience homelessness because of societal issues, not because they choose it. How addictions, divorce, mental health issues, all these things contribute to someone becoming homeless — but only when we do not have the necessary richness in our social welfare system to provide access to the supports they need to live their lives with dignity. When we do not have enough richness in our communities to build or safeguard someone’s resilience so they can weather life’s ups and downs.

It was inspiring. Exciting. Affirming to hear the speakers. To see so many people come out to be part of the event.

And then, Michael spoke. And what was a ‘hey let’s celebrate what we’re doing to make a difference’ became, ‘let’s remember that we don’t do this ‘for’ people so we feel good, we are doing it with them so that in the possibilities created, we have a better chance of becoming a better society where everyone knows that they belong, where everyone is treated with dignity, respect, kindness, care.

Michael spent 20 years living on the streets.

He slept in the woods. Used and abused drugs and alcohol.

He felt the shame of being imprisoned for things he’d done. The way he had become, the way he so often felt and was treated as ‘less than human’.

Fifteen months ago, Michael was released from prison and the Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS) started supporting him in his transition away from the streets, away from reacting to his life through crime, to finding the path he is so firmly committed to walking. The path of a brave, honourable and caring man.

“Housing is everything,” he told the crowd of 60 or so guests. “It gave me a place to begin again.”

He talked about the support CJHS has given him through housing. How it helped him make the decision to enter rehab. To get clean and sober. To walk a different path than through substance abuse and crime.

And it helped him see clearly the difference he can make when walking this path.

“I could look at the last 20 years as wasted or I can look forward to the next 20 years as an opportunity to do better,” he said.

His decision is to see the future through eyes of possibility, hope, growth, strength.

Last week, in a conversation with Michael about speaking at the event, he told me he still struggles to release his shame.

“You don’t deserve to carry shame,” I told him. “You deserve to carry pride, courage, strength.”

Yesterday, I watched a man step out from behind his past to claim his right to stand tall, to stand proud, to stand for what he believes in.

The chance to ‘do right’ for himself, his community, his people. The right to let go of the past. The right to build a new life on the path of his choosing. The right to see himself through eyes of compassion, love and hope. The right to be the true human being he is, not the one he was labelled before he awoke to his capacity to make a difference by being the difference he wants to create for all his relations.

Yesterday, I witnessed a man stand tall. He shone bright and in his light he illuminated the path for all to see; Ending homelessness doesn’t happen because one man decides to get off the streets. It happens because we as a society collectively take action to create paths away from homelessness for everyone. Where we all recognize that one man is every man, woman and child who has not had the opportunity to find their way home, not because they didn’t want to, but because there was no path.

Yesterday, a brilliant human being courageously stood tall and spoke up. The path is clear. We must all work together to end homelessness. It is the right thing to do.

Namaste.

 


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Be Grateful | 52 Acts of Grace | Week 15

acts of grace week 15 copy

Yesterday, C.C. broke the handle off a china coffee mug. I’d just bought him a set of 4 beautiful china mugs because he doesn’t like heavy pottery ones and these ones are so beautiful, I thought he’d enjoy drinking his coffee out of them.

And now, there are only 3.

When I saw the broken pieces of the handle on the countertop, I felt a tinge of disappointment course through my veins. Quick as lightening. I like even numbers of things. I like there to be 4, not 3.

I know. I know. A tad compulsive. A tad rigid if I do say so myself!

And that’s when I remembered, Stop. Breathe. Remember. Be grateful for all things.

I’d broken a crystal wine glass the day before. We had a set of 16 of these particular glasses. Now, there are 15.

It was a good reminder for me to pay attention, to get in the moment of what I’m doing. I’d dropped the wine glass because I was trying to do too many things in the kitchen at once and was not paying attention to what I was doing in that moment, right then.

The broken handle on the coffee mug was an opportunity to say, Thank you. Thank you for the reminder that accidents happen. It’s just a mug.

The handle can be glued back together and back onto the mug. Some cracks will always show. And as Leonard Cohen sings so poignantly, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

Thank you for the crack in the mug. Thank you for the reminder that hearts like mugs are fragile places. That when I treat one with disrespect, throw angry words at it or sear it with my disdain, it can be broken. That when a heart is broken, the only way to heal the cracks is to shine a little love, or a lot, on the broken places. That treasuring the cracks in another, is the path to finding one another in Love.

And thank you for the reminder that having an even set of china mugs is no where near as important as having a heart where cracks are made more beautiful because we are together, shining light on one another.

Be grateful today. For all things. The ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. The things that make you feel that fissure of anger, upset, disappointment, anguish. The things that give you pause to think about the cracks and how beautiful they look when you let the light in.

Let the light in today and be grateful.

Namaste

*************************************************************
And to help you remember, here’s Leonard Cohen singing, Anthem.


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Sometimes, you gotta give it a break

After the rain had stopped, summer slipped gently into the evening. A soft breeze blew through the branches of the apple tree, water splashed in the fountain, a magpie cawed, unseen, in a distant tree.

I sat on the back deck embraced by the gentleness of evening caressing my skin.

Yesterday, I spent the day doing nothing, yet everything. Some might say, I spent the day self-indulging in laziness. Others might call it a waste of time.

I call it, good medicine.

A month ago, while running with Beaumont, I tripped and fell on the pavement. Flat out. Right arm outstretched above my head to stop my fall.

Something clicked where it shouldn’t have clicked in  my shoulder.

I have been nursing it ever since. Acupuncture. Massage. Chiro. Stretching it hurts too much. Typing has been a pain.

Yesterday, I decided to just give it a break. To not use it to cook or type or clean or paint or tidy up. Nothing.

I started the day sitting on the deck, sipping my morning latte, wrapped in a blanket, listening to the world awaken. Beaumont sniffed the dew fresh grass still wet with Saturday night’s rains. I sat and felt the morning crisp air against my face and savoured the quiet of a city not yet awakened beneath a sky that could not decide to clear or remain cloudy.

It decided to cloud over completely and pour rain. A good excuse to curl up in the over-sized loveseat and flick on Netflix.

Beaumont climbed in beside me. I laughed and tried to push him off but he was persistent. I let him stay.

We watched episode after episode of a series I’d never even heard of and I decided to not remind myself I had to get up. I had things to do.

I decided instead, to dig into being complacent, being still so that I could enjoy the sluggishness of my day – without my judgements of ‘doing nother’ clouding my enjoyment.

It was healing medicine.

My wrist and shoulder did not bother me. My neck feels looser.

Sometimes, you just have to give yourself permission to do nothing of everything that heals, everything that feels like good medicine for a tired body.

In the doing nothing lies the secret to everything — sometimes, it’s important to listen to your body so that it can heal from the inside out.

Sometimes, it’s important to let your body rest so your spirit can catch up.

And sometimes, it’s important to simply give yourself a break.

So I did.

I am grateful.


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Intersections.

I am walking out of the building where I work to go next door to the convenience store for a bottle of Pellegrino. A tall man walks towards me, smiles. I smile back. I don’t want to make assumptions, but I think it is possible he is homeless.

He stops and says, “Excuse me…”

I stop and turn to look at him. “Yes?”

“I don’t want money” he says immediately. “But, I’m kinda stuck here. I just got out of emergency and I’m really hungry.” And he shows me the cut on his foot. “Would you be able to help me out with lunch?”

I look at him. Consider my options and say, “I could buy you some lunch here.” And I point to the little take-out restaurant on the other side of our office doors.

“I’d rather go to Mac’s,” he says.

“I don’t have time to go to Mac’s,” I tell him. “I’ll gladly buy you lunch right here.”

He considers it for a moment, thanks me and we walk into the restaurant where he orders lunch.

As we wait for the server to tally up the bill, I ask him if he has a place to stay.

“I’m kinda couch-surfing right now,” he tells me.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“Hobbema or as I call it, Hellbema.” He laughs. Shrugs a shoulder. “I don’t like it there.”

“I know a number of people from Maskwachees,” I tell him, using the Indigenous name. “They are working very hard to create positive change.”

“Yeah,” he says. “But all my people there, they just judge me. Make me feel bad about myself.”

“Do you feel bad about yourself?” I ask.

Again, a nervous laugh. A shrug of the shoulder. “Yeah. Pretty well all the time. Life’s not easy.”

“I would have to say that for your people it has been very, very hard.”

He nods his head up and down. Looks me in the eyes. “You’re a good lady.” And he leans over and gives me an awkward, sideways hug.

I return the hug.

“How come you know people from Maskwachees?”

“I’m involved in a program called Choices,” I tell him. “I’ve met them through it.”

His face lights up. “Hey! My cousin went to Choices. When he came back, all he wanted to do was hug everybody! He loved it.”

This time, he gives me a full on hug. Laughing as he does so.

Laughing, I hug him back.

The server has my bill ready. I pay. I wish him well and tell him he could check with his band about going to Choices. “It might help you feel less bad about yourself.”

“I’d have to go back. I don’t want to go back there.”

“Sometimes, going back is the only place to find the way forward,” I reply.

He nods his head, side to side as if weighing my words.

I tell him I have to go. He thanks me for lunch and as I’m about to open the door to leave he calls out, “Hey wait! Don’t forget. We gotta hug!”

And I turn and we hug and I leave. I go to the convenience store next door to buy my Pellegrino and he waits for his lunch.

And life flows onward.

And both of us move on carrying the memory of a hug where our paths intersected.

 


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Do you choose to wake-up or stay asleep?

unnamedSource: Zen Flash 

I love to walk barefoot in the mud. To feel earth’s wet, oozy goodness squishing between my toes, sliding across my skin.

I love to dance in the rain. To stand high on the top of a hill feeling the sky washing down against my skin, my hair flattening against my skull, my face soaking in the nourishing waters pouring down.

I love to swim naked in the sea. To slide effortlessly through crystal clear water flowing against my skin. To feel the waters of the universe caressing my body, holding me up, holding me in its embrace.

All of these things I love to do because they remind me how alive I am. How of the universe I am. How limitless my possibilities are in a world of wonder and awe.

All of these things I love to do are part of my path. Just as all the travails and triumphs I have experienced, the hardships and the missteps, the joyful leaps and the stumbling tumbles, they are part of my path that have carried me here, to today, where I have a choice.

Do I stay asleep or do I awaken?

Without all of these things, I would not be me where I am today.

Just as all the things you have experienced, endured, witnessed, fallen in love with, stepped away from, eased slowly into or leapt blindly into,  stumbled haltingly through or rushed fearlessly within, all of these thing are part of your path that make up the journey of being you.

They are not who you are. They are your how. The how of how you got here, to this moment where you can choose to fall back to sleep, or awaken.

We humans spend so much time focused on the how. So much effort trying to get through, over, into, out of circumstances, situations, opportunities, we forget it is not the ‘how’ that creates our journey, it is the what we do with what appears on our journey that creates the one we are today.

Immersed in the how of whether or not we step, leap, dance, cavort, we forget we have the power to awaken completely to our divine essence. To our brilliant light, our amazing grace.

And so, we focus on the how, thinking it will make a difference to what happens in our life.

It will not make a difference if we choose to stay asleep to our magnificence.

When I was an infant I crawled. I am an adult now. I can still crawl, but I can also dance, leap, jump, skip, walk…

No matter how I move through the world, how old I am, how rich, poor, slim, fat, tall, short. It doesn’t matter the colour of my skin, the depth of my roots in tribal soils or the wearing of my knees from prostration before the God or gods of my knowing,  it is what I choose to do that makes my difference one of awakened bliss or stumbling in the dark guilt for being alive.

Do I choose to wake up or do I choose to stay asleep?

As Alan Watts asks at the end of this short video on waking up, “You put yourself in this situation. So it’s a question fundamental. Do you define yourself as a victim of the world, or as the world?”


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A fight he didn’t see coming.

He is bleeding. His face a mass of blood oozing across his skin.

He is angry. Yelling. Thrusting his fist into the air. Walking in tight, angry circles.

When I first see him he is lying on the ground. Curled into a ball. Holding his stomach. There is a swarm of youth around him. Kicking. Punching. Yelling.

I stop my car. Honk the horn. Others do the same.

The crowd of 15 or so youth who are beating on him run off, darting down the alley with the lightning fast speed of a school of fish escaping into the shadows.

The young man lies on the ground, three youth remain protectively near him, trying to ward off any of the youth from returning.

A woman runs across the road, kneels by the young man. I park my car, grab my cell phone, put on the emergency flashers and run across the road towards the young man lying on the ground.

A woman stands on the sidewalk, cell phone pressed to her ear. “Are you calling 9-1-1?” I ask.

“Yes. Did you see it happen?”

“No.” I reply. “I just saw the end.”

Her hand is shaking where she holds her phone to her ear. “It was awful. They appeared out of nowhere. A whole swarm of them. It was awful,” she repeats.

I touch her arm. “It’s okay. Just stay on the line for 9-1-1.”

I walk over to the youth and the young woman kneeling beside him. “What can I do to help? Do you need tissues?”

The young woman looks up at me. The young man slowly sits up. Blood streams down his face.

“Yes. Go to the shop across the road. Grab some tissue.”

I run across the street and into the store. The owner is on the phone. Talking. He looks at me, mouths 9-1-1. I nod. Ask him for tissue. Paper towel. Anything.

He looks around. It is a bindery. Large machinery. Rolls of leather. A beautiful antique cash register.

I spy a box of kleenex on a counter. I grab it. Show it to him. He nods.

I run back to the scene where the boy and woman are now sitting on the pavement. Except the boy can not sit still. He stands up. Moves in tight, jerky circles. Swearing. Cursing.

I hand him the box of kleenex. He says, “Thanks.” He begins to wipe the blood off his face. There is a lot of it.

A man has joined us.

I ask the young man, the boy, to sit down. Please. You may be hurt. He shrugs off my entreaties.

The man comments on the cuts on his hands. His swollen knuckles.

“You got some swings in,” he says.

The boy shakes his head. “Nah. Those are from a fight earlier today.” He is sheepish yet proud.

“Do you know why they swarmed you?” the man asks.

“It doesn’t matter,” he replies.

We three adults stand and look at each other. The boy is moving around now. Nothing seems to be broken.

I go ask the man in the shop for water. No glass I tell him. The man gives me a plastic tub and roll of paper towel.

Again, the boy is appreciative of the help.

The other woman asks him to sit back down. He sits. Quickly stands back up, pulls out his phone and dials a number. “Hey man,” he says when someone answers. “Do you know _____________? The bastard just beat the f**k out of me. Yeah. I’m gonna get him.” And he hangs up.

“Did anyone call the police?” he asks. “I don’t want the cops.”

I look at the other woman. “I didn’t call them,” I tell him.

“Neither did I,” she replies. We do not mention the other passer-bys or the man in the bindery shop who was on the phone.

But it doesn’t matter. His fear of their intervention is greater than the wisdom of waiting for an ambulance.

He and the other two youth take off.

We three adults who happened upon the scene look at each other. The man says we may as well go. I grab a plastic bag from my car, clean up the dirty kleenex and paper towel and return the box of kleenex to the bindery shop.

“Pretty sad,” the man in the shop tells me. “My nephew died because he was living a life like that boy.”

“I’m so sorry,” I tell him.

“Yeah. It’s hard. You can put all the help you want in front of them but if they don’t know how to reach for it…”

I happened upon a young man being beaten as I drove home from work yesterday.

And I wonder if one day I will open the paper and he will be a victim or a perpetrator of a crime from which he cannot walk away.

It is not a happy thought. But it is a possible reality.

It is why we must never give up on reaching out. Because as that man in the shop said, It isn’t that he didn’t want help. He just doesn’t know how to reach for it.

And the only way to teach him is to keep reaching out so that when he does decide to reach back, help will be there.

Namaste.

.