Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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If I knew then what I know now -10 Things I would tell my 13-year-old self

A friend asked me awhile ago to join her and other women in creating a book of wisdom for a niece who is turning 13.

I wondered, if I could go back to meet my 13-year-old self, what would I want to tell her about life, love, living? From the vantage point of my life today, what wisdom would I most want to share to inform her journey?

If I knew then what I know now  — Ten Things I would tell my 13-year-old self 

  1. This too shall pass. There is no such place as forever. Nothing is forever. This too shall pass. Whatever you are experiencing, the trauma, the angst, the joy, they are all illusory. Transitory. Ride whatever is happening hands free, barefooted, body wide open to the experiences of life. Now is not forever.
  2. You’re okay. More than okay, you are amazing. Just the way you are. There is no fashion too out there, no style too wild if it is what you want to wear. You are not too fat, too skinny, to short, too tall, too under-developed, over-developed. You are who you are, how you are. And that’s amazing.
  3. You are worthy. This is a tricky one. Your mind wants to steal this one away and hide it because to know your worth, you must risk — the unknown. the perceived impossible. You must risk the ups and downs, ins and outs, overs and unders of life. To know your worth, you must know there is nothing, noone, no way anyone can steal it from you. It is your birthright.
  4. Believe in you. Really, really believe in you. Don’t question your right to be. Don’t question you’re right to go anywhere, do anything, anyway you choose. Be you. Everyone else is taken. Wear your hair up, down, wild, straight. Colour it pink, gold, orange or green. It’s your body. Your hair. Your skin. Your life. Your right to believe in you and be you just the way you are.
  5. Be kind. People will say mean things. Do cruel things. Be kind. Like you, they struggle to know their worth, find their place, feel their feelings. Like you, they are taking this journey of life without a manual, unable to control and predict everything life will throw at them. Like you, they are sometimes scared, sometimes silly, sometimes confused, sometimes wise. And like you, they too are looking to fit in, to belong, to be part of something bigger than themselves. Be kind, no matter how they act. Be kind.
  6. You don’t have to find your meaning. You are your meaning. Live it with your whole heart wide open to life. Your meaning is not in wearing the latest fashion or having the coolest stuff. Your meaning is found in how you approach every moment, engage every person from that place where you know, no matter what you think they think about you, you think and know you are amazing, just the way you are.
  7. Seek magnificence. Don’t go looking for mediocrity. Seek to be known through your magnificence and seek always to know others through theirs. Don’t look for fault, seek the lessons, seek the knowing, seek the value in all things.
  8. Risk often. Life isn’t a predictable series of events over which you have ultimate control. The only person you have control over is yourself – and even then you’ll sometimes doubt just how in control of yourself you are. Risk anyway because, if you’re involved with others, there will be lots of messy, sticky, unexpected and sometimes painful things happening on your journey. They’re just things. It’s all just stuff. You are amazing  – I know, I said it already – it’s true. Believe it. Risk living from the place of knowing you are okay, you are amazing, you are magnificent. Risk living as if it’s true — because it is.
  9. Smile often. Laugh lots. Dance always. And when you cry, cry out loud. When you laugh, laugh out loud. And when you see injustice, ask what can I do to change it, and do that thing with your whole heart and know, that is enough. You are enough. You don’t have to have all the answers, you only need to learn the one’s that will allow you to make the difference in the world you want to see and be. And that’s enough.
  10.  Get creative. Don’t go looking inside boxes for the recipe for life. Live it not knowing what’s next. Live it expecting the unexpected. Live it free of holding onto hurts and pains, sorrows and regrets. Live it up. Fill it with joy. and always, always SHINE! Because you are amazing. You are worthy. You are magnificent. And that’s the only truth you need to know to live your life fearlessly in Love with all of you.

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This is a repost of a blog I wrote in 2014. We are packing up our offices today for a move to another building. Gotta get packing!

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Where I surrender my fear and choose Love.

A friend and I are talking about ‘the world’. About the seemingly unending natural disasters that are decimating entire countries, about the sorrow and pain, the unspeakable acts of terror, the horror and grief in the world today.

And I am reminded of days long ago.

And I am thoughtful of what I learned then and know now to be true always — the power of my choice.

It was the year of my thirteenth birthday that I remember consciously having to choose. It was a momentous year. New country. New school. First year of junior High. My first period. My first kiss. My first boyfriend. And, the first time I remember feeling fear of the world around me.

We had just moved to France. It was the time of the ‘Algerian Crisis’. A couple of years after Algeria had released itself from the reins of a foreign government that had held control of its lands and its destiny for over a 100 years.

I remember staring out the airplane window at the peaceful-looking fields below as we approached the runway to land. They surrounded the city of Metz like a beautiful quilt of greens and yellows burnished in the Autumn sun.

A man met us at the airport. He piled our luggage into his vehicle and we climbed into the back. As we drove into the city that was to be our new home, he and my father sat in the front seat talking about ‘the troubles’. I sat behind them listening.

The man who picked us up told my father about the unrest. About a bar on the corner of a street somewhere in ‘the Algerian quarter’ where a group of masked men had walked in the night before and shot machine guns into the crowd. Images of bullets ripping through flesh, of bodies falling and lives ending seared my mind.

I suddenly felt unsafe in the world around me and my heart was sick.

When we got to our hotel, I started to cry. I want to go home,  I cried. I want to go back.

Back was to the land across the Atlantic. Back was to that place I’d lived for five years after the last time we’d returned from living on these foreign soils. It was the land of my birth. It was safe. In that place armed men didn’t indiscriminately shoot innocent bystanders dead.

I remember my mother telling me I couldn’t go back. My father saying, stop crying.

I had to make a choice. To choose to be present where I was with both fear and anticipation present.

I was excited about this new land, city, school. I was excited about the adventures that awaited.

And I was scared.

Would masked men appear on every street corner, blasting machine guns indiscriminately? Would I or those I loved be taken down by unidentified strangers seeking nothing other than to disrupt and destroy the world around them?

I had to make a choice.

I remember choosing to not let violence be my guide. I remember choosing to seek adventure, to find possibility for new friends, connections and opportunities.

I remember thinking I had no other choice.

I was not going to let fear consume me.

In recent months, drivers have torn through crowds killing innocents. Bombs have exploded tearing apart limbs and lives. Guns have blasted in war torn lands creating untold carnage and unspeakable acts of genocide have been committed against entire communities.

I cannot let fear consume me.

I cannot let what others have chosen as their path, change mine.

In every bomb and blast of gunfire is the reminder that life is fragile. Life is a gift. And while amongst us there are those for whom the gift of life is not as important as the fear that is sown into the hearts of many in their act of taking life away, I cannot let fear become my path.

A friend and I chatted about the state of the world and my heart felt heavy. My soul sick. I am reminded of those days long ago in France where I felt exposed. Those days when I first became aware that this earth upon which we walk, this planet whose air and waters and land we share with each other, holds both Love and hatred. Peace and fury. Harmony and hostility. Amity and war.

Just as long ago I felt grief for lost innocence sweep over me in the wave of fear that threatened to consume me, I must choose. Which side will I walk? Which path will I take?

And I am reminded. Choose harmony over hostility. Love over fear.

I am far away from those streets where bombs blew lives apart and still, I want to reach out and touch the people of those places and say, “I see you. I hear you. I feel with you the pain of what has happened.” I want to find just the right words and know, there are none that can make sense of terror.

In reverent silence, I surrender my fear and pray. In that sacred space I choose Love over fear and Peace invades my Heart.


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Dance like your heart is on fire

No. 26 – #ShePersisted Series

I felt my heart coming home to itself the other night.

I was listening to Keith Jarrett. The Bremen Concert. 1975

And memory flooded my senses.

Music does that. Open doorways and gateways to memory, stirring those places where my heart beats wildly, my senses awaken, my soul moves.

It is 1978.

I am living west of Edmonton in a tiny enclave of houses tucked within rolling hills, surrounded by trees.

I am not fond of living in Edmonton, which is why I have chosen to live 45 minutes west of the city. Every morning  the sun pulls me eastward into the downtown core and every evening I feel the warmth of the sun on my face drawing me closer to home.

My neighbours across the dirt road from my house are an eccentric couple from Montreal. Claire and Alan. They would eventually leave Alberta to journey to Nelson where they would change their names and become immersed in an Ashram near Nelson. I heard that they divorced. That Claire returned to Montreal to be near her daughter and Alan stayed on at the Ashram.

For now, they are my neighbours and friends.

Most Fridays, after I returned from work, I would traipse the pebbled pathway between our houses to spend the evening with Claire and friends, sipping wine, talking, listening to jazz. Sometimes we’d meditate. Sometimes, we’d chant. Always, we connected and shared our stories and Claire would counsel me on how to ‘loosen up’. Live less tightly. “You gotta let yourself go, Louise,” she’d tell me. And she’d put a record on the player and start to dance and call out to me to join her.

It’s where I first met Keith Jarrett.

Not physically of course. But mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.

His music would fill the room, soar out through open windows and pierce my heart like a thousand tiny raindrops falling on hot cement and I would feel my body move to his sometimes soft, sometimes wild notes and I would feel free.

Claire and I had a special friendship. She was twenty years older than me. Worldly. Dramatic. Wild and free. Alan was her third husband. He was 15 years younger than her and they were madly in love.

Sometimes, when the night was dark and the moon high, we would leave the house and go out into the forest that surrounded their home. There we would howl at the moon. Dance in the moonlight. Chant and meditate.

Sometimes, when the rain fell and the road between our houses was muddy, Claire would call me and tell me to meet her outside on the road. We would take off our shoes and socks and dance barefoot in the rain.

“Feel the earth, Louise,” she would exhort me. “Feel its richness squishing between your toes. Its juicy essence running over your feet, claiming you as its divine child. Feel it. Be it.”

And then we’d dance.

Claire danced like no one was watching.

Even in the woods, I was conscious of what others might think, or say, if they saw me.

It has taken me decades to rid myself of that sense of being watched. Of being ‘on show’. That everything I did mattered to others. That to step outside their expectations of what is acceptable or normal would cast me off into the netherlands of some other realm where I would be alone, and lonely, cut off from all connection because I was ‘different’ just for being me.

Over the years I have forgotten those days. Forgotten that friendship. But never Keith Jarrett. His music makes me come alive. Feel.

Over the years,  have tried at times to forget that young woman who was me, dancing self-consciously in the rain because she was afraid someone might be watching.

I dance in the rain and the sun and the wind and the snow now. I dance with abandon and let the music carry me away. It is my way of letting that young woman who was me, and Claire where ever she is, know that I no longer feel the pressure of having to look good for others. I’m okay being me.

I dance in the rain now and sing out loud because within me, the memory of Claire is calling out as she always did, “It’s okay,” she calls. “Dance. Dance like your heart is on fire. Dance like no one is watching. Dance because that is what you want to do, right now, right here. Dance because your soul is calling you to be free.”

And I dance.

 


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Forgiveness: the path to self-compassion

Photo by Andrew Montgomery on Unsplash

I am deep in meditation.

I have arrived at the Calgary Centre for Spiritual Living on Sunday morning early for the 45 minute meditation before the service.

It is a form of meditation I had not experienced before. Taizé is a contemplative worship service based on short chants and songs, interspersed with silence, prayer, and poetry.

I am immersed in the silence when suddenly something hits my leg.

I start. Open my eyes and a woman is crawling over me to reach a seat further down the row. Her foot has hit my leg as she went past.

Harrumph! My critter mind immediately awakens.

What is she thinking? I know they put a sign on the door that reads, “Meditation is in session. Please do not enter.”

How could she be so discourteous? How could she disturb me?

I breathe. Quickly close my eyes again and return to the meditation.

But my mind will not be still. It wants to rag on her ‘bad’ behaviour. It wants to make me a victim.

I breathe again.

Bless her. Bless me.
Forgive her. Forgive me.
Love her. Love me.

The prayer rises in my consciousness like mist from a river in the early morning light.

I feel its comfort infuse my body with gentle mindfulness.

Peace is restored.

When the meditation ends, I turn my head to smile at the woman beside me, the one who had disturbed me, but she is sitting with her eyes closed, deep in meditation.

What? Really?

But I’m ready to let her know I forgive her for being so rude! How can she be sitting there with her eyes closed as if she doesn’t have a care in the world?

Harrumph!

And I smile at myself and repeat my silent prayer.

Bless her. Bless me.
Forgive her. Forgive me.
Love her. Love me.

I wonder, momentarily, if she’s keeping her eyes closed because she’s worried I might say something to her.

I let go of my wonderment.

Whatever she is doing is not my business.

The critter and I have a gentle little conversation… Yes. She did disturb me. No. It was not intentional. Yes. She did ignore the ‘rule’. I am not the Centre’s police. The world didn’t end, nor did my meditation.

Am I willing to see the parallels between my disquieted mind and my meditative state? I am willing to look at how easy it is for me to be pulled from serenity into discord? Can I see the parallels with the world around me?

I went to service early Sunday  morning to sit in meditative silence.

In the silence I discovered my critter mind crawling around in the muck at the bottom of the river waiting to stir up dirt the minute I became disturbed.

Do I give ‘the mud’ my power or do I whisper a prayer of peace for both of us; for all of us?

It may have taken me a moment to get there, but in getting to prayer, I returned to the core of my spiritual essence and belief in the power of forgiveness.

It is not just for ‘the other’.

Its power is for me too.

When I feel my human response to be right or strike out, the path to reconciliation with myself and the world around me is through self-compassion.

There is no ‘us and them’ in self-compassion. There is only everything I need to feel at peace, whole and joyful and it begins with forgiveness of all, for all, with all.

There is no end to self-compassion. There is only the beginning again where I invoke the teachings of  Bhagavad Gita, “Curving back on myself, I begin again and again.”

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It has been several years since I shared in soulful contemplation at the CCSL – they have just taken up residence in their new digs. Friday night, C.C. and I were guests at their opening concert. It was amazing! Pat Campbell their new minister (okay she’s been there 4 years but is new to me) is an inspiring and enthusiastic voice who challenges and inspires my spiritual essence. It feels  like home to me.

 


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Dream INN Big! Gala — WOW Mateys!

Beaumont didn’t need an eye patch — he already has one!

We laughed. We talked. We gawked and admired one another’s costumes.

We ate good food. Shared a sip of grog or two and sampled tasty chocolate concoctions that soothed the cravings.

And we laughed some more.

Saturday night was the 5th annual Dream Inn Big! Gala for Inn from the Cold, the family resource centre I work for which includes a 24/7 emergency family shelter.

Almost 500 people, (297 adults and 175 children under 12 – the majority dressed up as pirates) ate and talked and listened to speeches and bid on silent auction items and raffles and all in all had a spectacularly great time! The children (including the adults who were children at heart) had fun playing games and making gooey gobby goop and finding their pirate names and sailing down the slide of a giant bouncy castle while wandering the rooms of the TELUS SPARK Science Centre. It was organized chaos with lots of Ahoy Mateys and time to walk the plank and shiver me timbers!

And when it was all over, we went home, our bellies full and our hearts fuller.

And when it was all over, a team of community volunteers, staff volunteers and staff dismantled the decorations, took down the decor and hauled evidence of the Gala away.

We raised over $217k on Saturday night.

Gratitude. Thankfulness. Humbleness. They fill our hearts and minds.

It’s still not enough though.

We have to do better.

Because when it was all over on Saturday night, the Inn emergency shelter was still full. In fact, on Saturday night we had to activate our emergency overflow shelter at Knox Inn to provide shelter for 8 children and their parents.

As an organization, we believe we can create a community where no child or family is homeless.

We believe that aside from a housing crisis, we can create the powerful and strong network of services and supports necessary to ensure every family has access to the right resources at the right time to prevent their falling into homelessness. And should a housing crisis arise, we believe we can quickly and compassionately provide the right supports to ensure homelessness does not become a long-term or recurring event in their lives.

We believe we can do it.

And that’s why events like Saturday night are so important. Not only do we raise much needed funds to support us in our vision, we also raise awareness and shift perceptions and increase support for our mission of helping children and their families in homelessness achieve independence.

Because, no matter where someone slept that night, the need to ensure we have the right family-serving system of care for vulnerable children and families is vital.

It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, putting on an event like the Dream Inn Big! Gala takes a whole community of committed staff and volunteers and generous sponsors

Since I joined the Inn team at the end of May, Gala has been a big part of the Communications, Volunteer Resources and Resource Development teams’ focus. They have lived and breathed and dreamed it into reality. Add to their roster the other staff who chipped in where ever needed, who came to volunteer on the night of the event to help set-up, oversee the evening’s numerous activities and tear down, the Dream Inn Big! Gala’s success is because of their commitment and heartfelt passion to ensure no detail was missed and every guest had a magical evening complete with pirate mayhem and laughter!

It worked. Thanks to staff, countless volunteers, sponsors and all those who came out, the evening is one I won’t soon forget, and neither will our guests.


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In the morning when a homeless child wakes up, the scary dream is still too real.

What is reality when you’re homeless?

What does it feel  like to not have a home?

The reality of homelessness is, you do not have the resources to have a place to call your own. It means all your belongings, everything you own is lost, or in storage, waiting, hoping that soon, very soon, you will be able to open the boxes, unwrap the furniture and place them all where they belong in that place you call home.

While the reality of what homelessness means may be similar for all, the feeling is very different for each person.

It can feel scary. Lost. Frightening.

It cal feel like the world is unsafe, uninviting, unwelcoming.

It can feel desperate. Confusing. Unbelievably hard.

It can feel hopeless.

For a child, whose world view is seen through the lens of the experiences of their family, being homeless can be all those things and more. Because as a child, understanding is limited to the experience of your parents, the circle around you. And in family homelessness, where the adults are also feeling lost and scared and hopeless, the child feels the confusion and fear of not understanding what is happening to their parents, their world.

Why are they angry? Tense. Unusually abrupt, inpatient, tired all the time, cranky, and always there?

When we live at home, we do things that are part of our daily life without really thinking about the things we do.

We get up, make coffee, tea, breakfast. We let the dog out. Cat in. Wake the family. Get the children ready for school Make lunches.

The rituals of a daily life routine.

In homelessness, the children still get up to go to school. They still grab a bag of lunch and climb onto the school bus each morning and return every afternoon.

The difference is, they are doing this in the noise and chaos of a communal system. They are eating breakfast someone else prepared with 60 other children and their parents. They are waiting in a crowded lobby with 60 other children and their parents.

Perhaps, there was a new family who arrived last night. They don’t know anyone, and no one knows them.

Those children are even more frightened, more afraid because it is all new to them. The fear is maybe not yet so deep. The uncertainty not yet settled in because they’re still trying to figure out their new world order. And their parents are still trying to put on a good face for them. But it is scary none the less because they have figured out the fundamental difference in their world — they are not at home, or whatever the place was they called home yesterday.

They do know that this place is busy, crowded, noisy. And no matter how badly they want to quiet down the noise, to break away from the chaos, there is nowhere to go.

They are living in a homeless shelter.

What does that mean?

For some, the word ‘homeless’ is that word used to describe that old guy on the street who is sitting leaning up against a wall, head nodding forward as he dozes, an upturned cap on his lap, hopeful for a few coins to be dropped into it.

For some, homeless means the youth you saw on the C-train platform playing her guitar in exchange for coins dropped into the empty guitar case. You knew she was homeless because she had a sign your big brother read to you: “Please help. Homeless. Hungry. Playing for change.” Your brother called her a loser that day. Are you a loser now?

Homeless is that word that once was shorter and now, because you have to tack on the extra four letters, means your life is less than what it used to be.

And you wonder, how long will you be less a home? How long will you live this way?

To a child, now feels like forever. Will this homelessness last forever?

And you hope it doesn’t. Because more than anything, you miss having a bed to crawl into in the room you shared with your sister where, when the lights went out, you whispered in the dark, sharing secrets and stories of your day, safe in the knowledge your older siblings slept in the room next door and your parents were in the big room down the hall where you could patter to in your bare feet if a scary dream woke you in the night.

In this place, you share a bunk with your sister on top of the bunk where your parents sleep. In the rooms on either sound of you, you can hear the sounds of strangers.

And in the morning when you get up, the scary dream of being homeless will still be real.

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Photo by Ilya Yakover on Unsplash


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There is tragedy, there is hope, in homelessness

On Tuesday evening we held the 20th Anniversary Annual General Meeting for Inn from the Cold, where I work.

It is important to celebrate all the good work that has happened over the past twenty years. It is good to mark the anniversary, yet, it can be hard sometimes to consciously align the good deeds done with the fact, we need an Inn, no matter how sweet, to save children and families from homelessness.

Last week, as we geared up for the AGM, we passed a marker that is tragic in its enormity, yet hopeful in its presence.

Last week, we registered the 70,000th person into the city’s homeless database (HMIS) which has only been up and running for the past five years. The person who became the 70,000th entry was a 7 year old boy who entered the Inn with his mother and family.

It is tragic that it was a child who took our community across the threshold of 70,000 people having experienced homelessness over the past five years. In that same week, just before the 70,000th entry, a one day old baby received their number from the database too.

Sometimes, it is beyond my comprehension how we can  have children experiencing homelessness on our streets.

Sometimes, it boggles my mind that a child needs a number to represent their homelessness.

The tragedy lies in their being homeless. The hope begins in their finding their way home through accessing our services.

It’s about more than the numbers.

Yes, 70,000 is a big number. And yes, a one day old child having a number in a system that tracks homelessness seems, on the surface, to be incomprehensible.

What difference do those numbers make?

The fact we can actually track who is entering the system of care is remarkable. Ten years ago, before Calgary launched its Plan to End Homelessness on January 28, 2018, we had no idea who was accessing the services of the 100+ agencies providing homeless supports in our city. Now we do.

Ten years ago, people went from agency to agency, asking for supports, help, information. They told their story again and again, sometimes adding trauma to an already traumatic journey in the continuous re-telling of the poverty and tragedy in their lives.

Ten years ago, agencies were so busy just serving the people coming to their doors, they didn’t have time to think about a coordinated response. They only had time to figure out their next response; person by person, family by family.

Today, there’s one entry point, a common entry form and a coordinated system that tracks people and the resources they access so that there’s only one telling of their story to put them on their journey to the place where they belong, home.

Today, the homeless-serving system of care is just that — a system. It’s coordinated. Planned. Collaborative. It’s focused on the bigger picture of ending homelessness as a pressing social issue, while taking care of the day to day needs of those whose lives have been impacted by the harsh realities of poverty and homelessness.

Today, we recognize there is a problem and are working together, not just as a city but as a province and a nation, to find solutions that honour the dignity and humanity of everyone and that make real and lasting difference in the lives of vulnerable children, families and individuals, and our communities.

A 7 year old boy and one day old child got a number from HMIS last week.

The hope is — they never ever have to use that number again as they move beyond the trauma of homelessness into the place where they belong, HOME.

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To mark our 20th anniversary, we created a video that speaks to the courage of those who first set up Community Inns in Church basements 20 years ago, and to the evolution of hope, dignity, respect and possibility to create the Inn as it is today.

Thank you to the amazing Comms and Event teams at the Inn and Paul Long of Paul Long and Associates for your creative brilliance. Thank you Andrea and the team at Six Degrees Music Studio for sharing your gifts and talents. We invite you to share in our story and to share it with your social networks. Thank you.