Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Helping out our neighbours is easy, and it makes a difference.

In 2013 Calgary had a devastating flood that displaced 100,000 people and destroyed 100’s of homes and other buildings.

Talking to a friend recently, they mentioned how out of sorts they’ve been feeling. How they cry at the drop of a hat and can’t stop watching CNN. “I can’t stop watching the flooding in Houston, even though it makes me cry and feel angry,” they said.

It makes sense. In 2013 their family lost their home to the flood. They’ve rebuilt it but every spring run-off, they feel the fear, the anxiety, the tension of waiting to see how much rain Mother Nature will deliver.

That anxiety is present now as they watch the news out of Houston.

It is horrific. Sad. Heart-breaking.

And I sit, dry and safe, thousands of miles away wanting to do something.

I can’t get on a plane and fly down there to help out in flood relief.

I don’t have the resources to load up a semi-trailer full of supplies to drive down there and deliver hope, support, and the much needed necessities.

There is something I can do.

“I couldn’t do anything during the floods here except focus on cleaning up the mess and rebuilding,” my friend said. “At least this time, I can do what so many others did when we needed help back then. Make a donation.”

What about you?

Are you feeling helpless, anxious, wanting to do more?

It doesn’t take much. And it’s really easy to do, even from Canada. MacLean’s Magazine has a listing of ways everyone can help victims of the flooding.

It’s a small, small world we live in, and we  all need to help our neighbours in times of need.

In 2013 I could get involved in relief efforts because I lived in the city. The distance should not keep me from helping out now. Please, consider donating whatever you can to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. I know for me, the minute I pressed the donate button, I felt better. I had done something to help out my neighbours.

 

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Worthy cause. Hopeless case. What’s the difference?

Some time ago, as we entered the city on a drive back from the mountains, we stopped at an intersection waiting for a red light to turn green. On the cement divider between east and west traffic a young woman stood, hat in hand, looking for handouts. She smiled. She waved. She greeted people with shouts of, “Hey! It’s all for a good cause.” And, people complied. They rolled down their windows and tossed their coins into the bright orange cap she extended towards them. The light turned green and everyone continued on their way feeling good about themselves. They’d supported a good cause.

And they had. It was a worthy cause. Parked on the grassy corner of the intersection, the big blue and orange organization’s van was plastered with banners encouraging people to Give to the Cause. Volunteers leaped up and down, cheering, waving at the passing cars, encouraging those at red lights to open their wallets and support the panhandlers walking beside them. Drivers honked their horns. Waved. Called out cheers. It was a lively intersection filled with purpose — and a cause.

On another corner, a homeless man walked between the waiting cars at the red light, a handmade cardboard sign held up against his chest. “Please help. Homeless. Hungry. God Bless.” The drivers stared steadfastly forward, watching the light, wishing it would turn faster so that they could get away from this sign of decay in our society. No one rolled down their window. No one smiled at the scruffy-looking, dark haired, bearded man as he shuffled along the roadway, asking for help.

On one corner, a worthy cause. On the other? A hopeless case? Undeserving drug-addict breaking the law?

One deserves our support. What about the other?

Yes, the funds raised to support research into finding cures for horrible diseases are important. But what about their tactics? By mimicking the methods used by vulnerable individuals, are they not legitimizing the very tactic we deplore? The one police hand out tickets for to deter the unacceptable practice of panhandling?

Someone empties their car ashtray on the street and drives on, leaving behind their garbage. We don’t give a lot of thought to their passing by other than to possibly mutter under our breath, “some people’s children” — or words to that effect. We sweep away the garbage and continue on with our day.

A  person experiencing homelessness leaves their garbage on the sidewalk and disappears from our sight. We gather up all signs of their passing by and sweep away their unsightly mess. We’ve got a lot to say about what they’ve done. A lot of names to call them. But hey! What can we do? They’re just the homeless, good-for-nothing, lazy drug addict. They’ve made choices. It’s all their fault. Why can’t they get a job or at least clean up their own garbage?

Watching two different scenarios on the street unfold I found evidence of the thin line that divides us. We’re all human beings. We’re all under stress. We’re all capable of magnificence. We’re all worthy of a chance to make a difference — and we are all guilty of labelling difference-making both positive and negative.

Sometimes, what we do is not that different. It’s just the label we attach to our efforts that legitimizes what side of the street we’re on. Good cause. Hopeless case. It’s all in our perceptions.


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When doing nothing is not the answer.

An older man and woman are standing in the parking lot, just next to my car when I come out of the grocery store. I hear a dog barking and the woman say, “What should we do? It’s so hot out and the car is all locked up.”

“Is there a dog locked in a car?” I ask as I stop beside them. I’m thinking that is where the barking is coming from.

“Not a dog,” the woman responds, pointing to a red car parked next to the empty stall in which they’re standing. “A senior.”

And I look at the car she’s pointed to and see an older man, head resting on his chest, sitting by himself in a closed up car.

“Is the engine running?” I ask.

“No,” she replies. “And it’s so hot.”

“Why don’t I knock on the window and make sure he’s okay,” I suggest, walking towards the car.

The other man who was standing beside her walks away. He doesn’t want to get involved or perhaps he just thinks the situation is taken care of, no need for him.

The woman is nervous. “Do you think you should?” she asks. She holds up a piece of paper. “I have the license plate number. I can go into the store and have them call out for the owner.”

“That may take too long,” I reply. “It is really hot and he’s very still.”

I rap on the window.

The man doesn’t awaken at first. I rap again, thinking about how I’m going to have to break the window if he doesn’t stir.

He opens his eyes. Lifts his head. Slowly.

“Are you okay?” I ask him through the closed windows. I can see the keys in the ignition, but the car is not running.

He opens the door slightly. The woman hovers beside me.

“We were worried about you,” I tell the man through the open crack of the door. “It’s really hot out and we wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I like the heat,” he replies.

“Oh. Okay. Well perhaps you may want to open your window a little bit so others don’t think you might be in distress,” I tell him with a smile.

He nods his head and closes the door.

The woman and I walk away towards our cars.

“Thank you for your help,” she says. She is hesitant. Shakes her head. Raises her shoulders. “I didn’t know what to do.”

“It is good that you noticed him,” I told her. “It’s much too hot to sit in a locked car with the windows up, even if you do like the heat.”

She smiles. Gets in her car next to mine.

I load my groceries into my car, look back at the man. He has opened his window a bit.

I am relieved.

It is much too hot to sit in a locked up car exposed to the full heat of the sun with all the windows closed.

The dog is still barking where he is leashed up to a pole near the grocery store doors.

I hope the owner comes out soon ’cause baby, it’s a scorcher.

___________________________________________

Years ago, I saw a young woman sitting in a coffee shop by herself, crying. I did nothing.

I have learned that doing nothing is not the answer. This was for her and all the others I have walked by or not noticed who needed help or just someone to care enough to make sure they were okay.

 


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How to Begin Again in love and life.

“It’s not convenient for me to come help you right now. Why don’t you just take a cab home and we can deal with it in the morning?”

These are the words my beloved speaks into the phone when I call him in a confused state after trying to open the doors of my car.

Everything is dead.  The FOB doesn’t work. There’s no flashing red light from the security system. No click when I press the button on the door handle that should lead to the door automatically opening.

There’s also no key to unlock the door.

Of course, I’m ticked at my husband. Why on earth can’t he come and rescue me? Right now.

My ‘ticked-offedness’ is not based on reality. He is with a friend who is dying. They don’t expect him to live through the night. He has spent the afternoon and early part of the evening with his friend, his wife and family. He just wants to get off the phone as quickly as possible as he is in an emotionally challenging place and can’t deal with much else.

Not knowing where he’s at emotionally, I filter my feelings/thoughts through my experience and base my response only on his words, which I judge to be a tad off-putting.

And yeah, I just might have been a little bit snippety when I responded.

How often do we do this? Hear something and leave out, or don’t get the context of, what the other person is experiencing? We filter their response through our experience and make judgments about them and their words that lead us to respond in not so kind, considerate or thoughtful ways?

The converse can also be true. For C.C., he could not know how his words would trigger me. But then, until I heard them, neither could I.

Not feeling like I matter, or that I’m important enough for someone else to come to my defense or support is an old pattern of thinking/feeling for me. Most times, I am aware of this belief pattern and am able to frame my response and understanding through my self-awareness.

Sometimes, I’m just not there.

Being conscious and aware of this pattern is vital to ensuring a conversation doesn’t go from “hello” to a deep dive into resentment, anger, confusion, because the other person didn’t respond the way we wanted or expected. In that deep dive away from searching for intimacy to deepening our insistence of being right, we often say and do things we wish we hadn’t.

I don’t know about you, but I really do my best not to say or do things I’ll later regret!

We are all just humans on the journey of our lifetime. And sometimes, that journey is filled with moments where we do not act up to our higher good and instead, sink down to our baser instinct to always be right, always win, always have the last word.

Fortunately, C.C. and I have an agreement. If one of us says, “Can we begin again?”, there’s only one permissible response.

“Yes.”

In beginning again, whatever the inciting incident, we both agree to release it as we begin again from the sacred ground of our love for one another. In that sacred space, we do and all we are for and with each other comes through the desire to deepen intimacy through love.

And while some days, the critter in me would rather I just stand my ground in self-righteous victim-hood, my heart always knows the truth, to begin again is the way of Love.


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Family homelessness is not a family issue.

A family arrives at Inn from the Cold, the family emergency shelter where I work. A mother. Father. Three, four, maybe five children ranging in age from 4 to 12.

Life so many, they have come from ‘the reserve’. One of over 3,100 tracts of land set aside by treaty with the Government of Canada. A place that was designed to give Indigenous people ‘security of place’ in this land they once roamed freely. long before ‘First Contact’ with the white man.

The reserve is not an easy place to live. Vestiges of colonialism, inter-generational trauma, lack of housing, lack of safe drinking water, high rates of school drop-outs, drug use and suicides all paint an uncertain future for children.

This family came to the city months ago to find work, a home, and that better future they so desperately want. After wearing out their welcome on the couches and in the basements of family and friends they have come here, to the only place they can think of where they might just find a way out of despair, poverty, homelessness.

The Inn is not a home, but it is shelter. Safety. Refuge. It is a place where they can catch their breath, get help, find support to plug into the resources they need to move beyond housing crisis to a home. To step beyond instability to stability so their children can go to school, grow up and live the future they deserve.

Like so many who come to our city seeking a better future, they were not prepared for the realities and challenges of life and the cost of living here. They were not prepared for the discrimination, the racism, the hostility they found festering at the edges of our society or the lack of understanding of what it means to be Indigenous in our country.

We hold so many untruths about Indigenous people and culture. Like believing every Indigenous person gets thousands of dollars a year for doing nothing. Or that they’re all lazy and just looking for a free hand out. Or all drunks and unwilling to get sober.

It is hard to walk down the street with your head held proud when racial slurs are slung at you like nuclear fallout; just because of your heritage.

It is hard to get a job when you are judged first by the colour of your skin, not your credentials.

It is hard to find housing when the welcome mat is swept away because your skin is not white.

And it’s hard to see a better future for your children when the road you travel is strewn with man-made obstacles blocking your progress. It takes superhuman strength to throw the obstacles to the side of the road, a superhuman strength few of us possess, let alone a family searching for a better future.

Of the 1,000+ families the Inn will serve in a year, 60% are Indigenous, 25% new Canadians.

This is not a family issue, or an Indigenous issues, or an immigrant issue. It is a societal issue caused by our human practices.

Regardless of the colour of their skin, or the land of their birth, family homelessness isn’t about a mother and father and their children losing a home. It’s about society losing its way.

To build better futures we must start today to clear the road of the obstacles that prevent some members of our society from experiencing the same benefits, the same opportunities, the same freedoms we do.

And it begins with letting go of our beliefs of who ‘those people’ are and seeing them instead as fellow citizens who have not had the same opportunities as we do, even though they deserve them.

It means looking through eyes of caring and compassion, seeing the burden of the past not as a judgement of somebody’s worth today, but as a reflection of what happens when we believe ‘those people’ are not equal and because of their differences, must be put in their place.

The families who come to the Inn do not come because life is easy and they just want a free ride. They come because life has been hard and they have run out of options.

When the only road to a better future leads through that place called, ‘homeless’, a mother and father will do anything to help their children get there. And sometimes that means carrying a label that doesn’t sit well on your psyche or your skin, but is all you can carry to the Inn, ‘Homeless’.


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Rescued by Life

It was the day after the man who had promised to always love me was arrested.

I sat on the narrow bed in the spare room at my sister’s house and contemplated the entirety of the mess of my life.

I was broken. I was broke. I was undone.

But I was no longer lost. I had been found.

For the final three months of that relationship from hell I had been missing. Disappeared. Gone.

My daughters, my family, friends, no one knew where I was and I wasn’t telling.

He had told me I couldn’t. I didn’t dare disobey him.

When the police arrived that morning of May 21, 2003, I was standing by the river that ran through the property of the guesthouse where we were staying.

I was contemplating how to disappear forever. I imagined unhooking gravity’s hold on my body, letting it fall forward of its own volition to sink beneath the waters and get washed out to sea.

I had lost all will to live and wanted to die. But I could not kill myself. To kill myself would have made a lie of the one truth I clung to. I loved my daughters. I could not take my own life.

Desperately I waited for him to take me out of my misery. I waited to be rescued by death.

And then I was.

Rescued. By life.

I have been thinking about that story lately. It is inevitable. Working in a place where women come in with their children in tow, fleeing a man who has promised to love them and who is hurting them in ways they never imagined possible.

It is inevitable that those memories surface as I watch a woman and her two teenage daughters navigate the uncertain terrain of an emergency shelter and this place called homeless.

It is the part of the journey that people seldom talk about. That place where all pride is stripped away as you face the bitter and unbelievable truth; you are broken and desperately need help.

I was always too proud back then to acknowledge how broken I was. My pride kept me from reaching out for help.

I hid. I pretended. I smiled to hide my fear. My pain. My confusion.

I wanted to be rescued because I did not believe I could save myself.

On that morning after he was arrested so many years ago, I opened a notebook and began to write. It was all I could think of to do to keep from drowning in self-loathing and fear and sorrow and grief and heartbreak.

One of the very first things I wrote so many years ago was, “Now for the hard part. Healing from this mess.”

I remember sitting on my bed, looking down at the pen in my hand and the notebook with its lines blurring through my tears and thinking, “I can’t do this. I don’t know where to start.”

And then a voice from deep inside me whispered. “Yes you can. Begin right here. Begin with what you know. You are alive. With life, anything is possible.”

And it was true.

I was alive and anything was, and is possible.

I gave up on hating myself that very first morning. I gave up on dragging myself through the dirt and muck of the past and gave myself permission to be present in life as it appeared in that moment.

I was still afraid. Still broken. Broke and sad. But I was alive.

And with life, anything is possible.

It is what I want to tell the women I see everyday at the shelter. It is what I want to whisper into the ears of those young girls who sit so still as they whisper together, watching the room of children and parents flow around them.

“You can get through this. Begin right here. You are alive and anything is possible in your life.”

Once upon a time, pride stood in my way.

And then, life rescued me and I found the courage to let go of pride and reach out for help.

I am grateful.

Namaste.

 

 


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Where hope burns eternal for all humankind

Robert the Magician gets lots of oohs & aaahs! and How did he do that?

At the family emergency shelter where I work, 25% of the families we serve are new immigrants to Canada. For many of those families, the past was filled with uncertainty, turmoil, fear of death by starvation, violence, or war.

On Friday night, along with my amazing friend Wendy C., I acted as Host for the monthly birthday party we hold for the children at the shelter. Thanks to the generosity of the Children’s Hospital Aid Society who cover the cost of the parties and volunteers who come in to put the party on, the event is a fun-filled hour and half of birthday party games, cake, and ice cream supplied by Fiasco Gelatto.

On Friday night, as I watched the guests and volunteers intermingle, play games, eat cake and laugh at the antics of a magician who came in to entertain them, I was struck by how much alike we are, in-spite of our differences in skin tone, height, colour of hair, faith, place of birth, and a host of other visible differences within the human form.

Everyone loves birthday cake!

We are more alike than different.

We all want to celebrate the birth of our children. We all want to create happy memories for them. A world where they will grow up to be strong and free.

And, like parents the world over, we all like to remind our children to say please and thank you. To not make a mess. To ‘use our manners’.

We adults spend an inordinate amount of time talking about what makes us different than them. In some cases, we frame it in language of ‘better than’, more deserving, more entitled.

Yet, when we scratch beneath the surface of the human body, we are more alike than different. When we dig into what motivates us, what drives us in the world, we share so much in common. And, when we stretch beyond the circumstances of our birthplace, we find ourselves on the common ground of our sharing this human condition where ever we are, no matter where we go.

On Friday night, as I served up cake and passed out little tubs of ice cream, I wasn’t serving homeless children and their families. I was part of the joy and hope a child’s birthday brings into the world. I was part of creating a memory for children whose family circumstances have brought them to a place they wish, for so many reasons, they’d never had to visit, but while they are there, are determined to make as safe and caring and memorable for their children as they can.

It may not have been the perfect place, but for those mothers and fathers for whom the shelter is currently their safe respite, it was the place where their children will remember how much fun, laughter and cake they got to enjoy!

I witnessed humanity on Friday night. It had many skin tones. Many sizes. Many beliefs. And like humanity the world over, the thing that brought us all together was the celebration of a child’s birthday. In that celebration, hope burns eternal for all humankind.