I was humbled yesterday. Brought to tears by one man’s story.
He’s 47. When he was 2 or 3 days old, he stopped breathing. Oxygen deprivation resulted in Cerebral Palsy.
His movements are jerky but he can walk.
His speech is limited, but he can talk.
My hearing’s okay, he motioned to the crowd who sat listening in awe to his speech at “Let’s Talk Hope” yesterday, a one day conference designed to create conversation, communication and connection on mental health. Organized by the incredible Connie Jakab of Movement with a Message, the day was jam packed with inspiring speakers, performers and attendees.
And then, Sheldon Penner took the stage, or Shel-dog as he likes to be called.
If you’ve wondered what someone with a disability can teach you, believe me, it’s a lot!
Sheldon can’t speak. At least not in the traditional form of speaking to which we were accustomed. Yesterday, Sheldon taught all of us that lack of verbal communication acumen doesn’t mean you can’t communicate.
For 15 minutes, the audience laughed, cried, cheered and sat in absolute silence as the words Sheldon typed on his laptop were projected onto the giant screen behind him. They sat in silence as they read the words of his pre-loaded powerpoint and they held their breath as the poignancy and truth of his words dug into their hearts and minds.
What hurts me? Sheldon asked.
People not understanding. People thinking I’m stupid. People judging me.
It was all there, in black and white on his screen. The limitations of we, the able bodied, to cope with someone else’s visible disabilities. Our inability to walk with grace no matter who we encounter.
I was humbled yesterday by a man who cannot speak but whose words touched my soul so deeply, I cried in the light of his beauty, courage and grace.
Thank you Connie Jakab for being such an incredible light in a sometimes dark world. Thank you for sharing your brilliance to create Let’s Talk Hope so that together, we can all see in the dark and shine a little brighter.
It was cold on January 30th, 1988 when she was born. Her father and I were just finishing off touches to her bedroom when my water broke, two weeks before my due date. There was a nurses’ strike happening, the temperature was sub-Arctic and I hadn’t quite finished doing all the things I wanted to get done before her arrival as Alexis’ little sister. I wanted to wait. At least until after the nurses’ strike. My doctor informed me waiting was not an option. My daughter agreed. She arrived just after 3pm in the afternoon of the 30th. Two weeks early. 6lbs 1 oz. A perfect miracle of life.
And that is how she has rolled ever since.
She doesn’t wait for things to happen. She makes them happen. She doesn’t wait for the world to catch up. She leads the parade.
Inspiring. Thoughtful. Thought-provoking. Lele (as we call her) likes to challenge ideas, shake-up the status quo, see things through different perspectives.
And she likes to invite everyone into her creative way of seeing the world.
Once, when she was about eight, she really, really wanted a dog. When she asked me if we could get one, I told her I didn’t think so. I was a single-working parent of two young daughters. I didn’t want to have to care for an animal. A few days later, she asked me if we could get an elephant. Of course not, I laughed. An elephant’s too big. What about a giraffe? Same thing, I told her — plus the fact our roof wasn’t high enough to accommodate an animal that tall. She pretended to think about it some more and then asked if we could get a tiger. Tiger’s don’t do well in the city, I replied. Oh, she said. Do dogs? Of course, I casually responded. And they’re not too big or too tall for our house are they? No. They’re not. Good, she said. Then a dog is perfect.
It wasn’t until two weeks later when we were on our way to the SPCA to check out dogs that I realized I’d been outsmarted by my 8 year old daughter.
And when we came home with Bella, an 80lb shaggy black bear of a dog, I realized I’d been out-smarted again. I’d insisted that if we got a dog, it would be a small one.
Lele was right though. We needed that big shaggy girl in our lives. And so did their dad, she would later convince me. Travelling back and forth between houses with the girls, Bella had become his best friend. She’ll only be a block away, mom, she told me when she asked if Bella could go live with their father. You’ve got us. He needs someone in the house with him. And so Bella, the dog she’d lobbied for so convincingly took up residence in their father’s house a block away.
Because it was the right thing to do and doing the right thing is at the heart of who Lele is. She cares about people, animals, everything. And beyond caring, she turns up. She takes action.
During the floods in 2013, she volunteered around the city helping to sweep out flooded basements, carry out sodden belongings of strangers. It didn’t matter what the job. She was needed. She was there.
It’s who she is. It’s how she is in this world. Loving. Laughing. Living life her way.
And I am so blessed. She has gifted my life with grace and love not to mention a lot of quirky humour. And when I really needed it, she gave me the forgiveness I so desperately needed and kept on loving me just the way I am.
Today is my youngest daughter’s birthday. My life and the world are a better place because she’s in it.
Why are you here? he asked, pulling down the black hoodie covering his head.
To see you, she replied, reaching out to touch a stringy strand of oil dark hair that hung limply along his cheekbone.
You’ve never really seen me, he said. Why start now?
She stepped back. The pain of his words piercing her like sleet driving into the night.
That’s not true.
Yeah? Then why’d you leave me? Why’d you let me go?
She swallowed. Closed her eyes for one brief moment. Opened them wide and looked into his. Deep blue into deep blue. Mirrors. Reflections. Gene pools spilling over with familial bonds cascading through the years. His birth. Precious. Filled with promise. Anger. An arm swinging, hitting. The father. A dark figure. Gone. Leaving her and her baby. Alone. Afraid. Young mother. Young child. Struggling. Fearing. She’d lost him for awhile. Got him back. Worked hard. But he kept running away. Leaving. Never really settling in upon his return.
I didn’t let you go. They took you. I was always there. I just didn’t know what to do. Her words rushed out. A stream of letters tumbling in a frothy brew of discordant notes, pouring into the void between them. Never enough. No never enough to fill that space. But they were all she had to give.
You were supposed to know. His voice hissed. Steam rising. A pool of heated water shimmering with words unspoken.
You were supposed to know.
She sighed. Her shoulders rose. She arched her neck. Raised her chin. A silent prayer. Grant me the serenity to accept…
He was but a child. A boy. Runaway. Running to. Running from. Running.
no longer a child. Legal age come and gone long ago in the pain of childbirth. She grew up in the rush of his screaming fight to enter the world ripping her apart. Teenage girl to mother in one cut of the umbilical cord.
She’d never had a chance to catch up. to untie the knots of her past. To become his mother without yearning for someone to mother her. But still she kept running after him. Reaching out to catch him.
Reaching into that place where he kept running to. Running. Fast. Hard. Into that place where pain recoiled and fear froze in the cold reality of his life. Street teen. Addict. Panhandler. Words that collided on the frozen landscape of his life lost to the street.
She was eighteen plus eighteen. Eighteen at his birth. Eighteen years since he came into this world.
It was his birthday today. She came to find him. To invite him for lunch. Tea. Coffee. Anything.
and here she stood. A mother pleading for her son’s life. A mother standing before a son whose life was so far away she did not know how to reach him. Did not know how to find him amidst this life she could not understand.
He had run away. Again. For the … she had lost count.
she had followed him. Again. Finally finding him. Here. In this place where he said he fit in. Belonged. Knew. who he was. Who his friends were.
She looked around. The room was crowded. People sat at tables. Heads down on folded arms. Chatting. Playing cards. Reading. Staring into space. People sat and walked and hung about. Busy room. Chaos.
She’d been here before. The last time. She hadn’t found him then. She had found him now. She had to try. to reach out. to reach him. To reach within his hardened heart.
I’m here now, she whispered quietly into the space between them. She stepped one step closer. closing the gap. Closer.
It’s not enough.
She stepped closer.
You’re being here. you’re too late.
It’s never too late. She spoke the words. Desperately wanting to believe them.
He smiled. Briefly. A flitting upward motion of his lips. Like hers. Full-bodied. She looked at the sore beside his mouth. Red. Blistered. Cracked. Crack sore.
She ached to touch it. To heal his pain. To take away the drugs that were eating him from the inside out.
She kept her hands to herself. She looked into his eyes.
It’s never too late.
I wish that were true, he said. I wish… and he stopped. His blue eyes flitted around the room, darting from left to right. Up. Down. He blinked.
I don’t know. and he repeated himself. I don’t know.
That’s okay, she said. You don’t have to know. Let me help you.
I’m not ready.
I am. And she paused. I know it’s taken me too long. I know I’m late. But let me help. Let me…
he shook his head.
She gulped. Breathed deeply. Reached into her jacket pocket. Pulled out an envelope.
Let me give you this. And she handed the enveloped across the space between them. Pushed it into his hand that hung by his side.
He gripped the envelope. Crumpled it. Held on tightly.
You know if it’s money I’ll just spend it on drugs.
Pain. Sharp. Cutting. Another arrow to her soul. She breathed. Deeply.
That’s your choice. Pause. Can I take you for lunch?
No. Pause. Thanks. I just ate. And he swept the hand that held the envelope out towards the room. Here.
I gotta go. Pause. He turned away. Light hit his face. Streaming in through the cloudy glass of a window. She saw him through the years. Young boy running. Stomping through mud puddles. Tears and fears and cries she could not relieve. She saw him running through the years. He turned to walk away. Stopped. turned back.
Thanks for coming down. He held up the envelope. Thanks for this. Pause.
she waited. Silently.
I know I look a mess. I got out of Detox yesterday. Words began tumbling out. I’m still clean. He held up the envelope again. I’m not really going to use it on drugs. I wanna get straight. Stay clean. I’m looking at a course. Here. Maybe go back and get my GED. Get a job. I wanna let it go but I gotta do it my way. I gotta find my own path. I can’t keep running back to you and back to here. And if I come back to you, I’m scared I’ll just come back here. So I need to start from here and see where I go. I gotta do it my way.
She bit her lip. Held her breath. the right words. The right words. She prayed.
I’ll always welcome you back. No matter what. And she paused. Took a breath. No matter what, I’ll never quit loving you.
He stood in front of her. This boy/man searching for his way. Searching for the path out of the darkness.
Yeah. I know.
And he turned, pulled his hood up over his head and walked away.
She stood. Watched his back fade into the crowd of grey and black bodies sheltered beneath the roof of this place where so many like him waited out the time until they found the courage to take the next step on the path away from where they were lost.
She stood and watched and knew he was doing it his way. She would do it hers with heart held open in love.
She stood and watched and said a silent prayer of gratitude. He was safe. He was alive. There was hope.
In a world where every day there is news of some new natural disaster or man made trauma, it is important to also see the lighter side of life to keep the beauty and wonder of the world alive in your heart.
For several months, I have been writing a weekly post at Sundays with Beaumont — Conversations with my Sheepadoodle.
As I said to my eldest sister as we were talking about how cheeky Beaumont is, “I find it fascinating how, even though I am the author, I still can’t win any conversation with Beau!”
Reality check. I’m both sides of the conversation! It’s not that I can’t win. It’s just that I like letting Beaumont get the upper hand! It amuses me and his readers.
Given that these conversations create joy and laughter for those who read them, creating them pleases me and brings me into my heartspace where every act of service, no matter how small, is a reflection of what I want to create more of in the world; kindness, compassion, joy and Love.
So, while these conversations are not ‘real’, they serve a real purpose. They remind me to not take myself so seriously. To not be so caught up in taking myself so seriously, I forget to have fun by creating love and joy in the world.
These conversations also remind me that life is precious, this journey brief. It’s important to find the joy in every day moments.
What do you do to find joy in everyday moments? How do you stay out of the quagmire of taking yourself so seriously, you forget to have fun?
Please join Beaumont and me at Sundays with Beaumont. We’d love to share in the lighter of side of life with you! Click here: Sundays with Beaumont
I much preferred it to the one the rest of my family used, “The Brat.” More often than not though, I probably lived down to “The Brat” trying to make myself not feel so small and little.
I don’t remember when I first began to feel like I didn’t fit into my family. That somewhere in the cosmic journey my belonging got tilted into the twilight zone of not being part of the greater whole that made up our familial unit.
I remember though, the day I decided I had to do something about it.
I was in my early twenties. My parents, brother and sister-in-law had come to visit. I had just started my first ‘real job’ and had to work late. I left the key under the mat and told them to make themselves at home until I got there.
When I did get there, my father and brother were well into a bottle of scotch and having a grand time of dissecting my life. Under the liquid courage that buoyed them up, they decided to set me straight as to why my life wasn’t as great as I thought it was, and why I wasn’t that great a person either.
It was not a happy evening. Eventually I told them that if they wanted to talk about me like that they’d have to go stay somewhere else.
They left and went to stay in a hotel.
I lay on the rug in the living room and wept.
I couldn’t understand it. What had I done to them to make them dislike me so much? What was wrong with me?
I began a journey of self-discovery. It would be many, many years before I found answers that I could live with peacefully. In the process though, I discovered the greatest gift of all.
Self-love and acceptance of all of me. Beauty and the beast. Yin and yang. Lightness and darkness. Grace and hubris.
Yesterday, my ego got triggered. In its need to feel good about itself, to defend against what it perceived to be people undermining my worth, it acted out. It became ‘the victim’ and, just like in my twenties when I couldn’t understand why my family would think so poorly of me, in its strident screaming to ‘Dive! Dive! Dive’ for cover, I moved into that place where my vision of myself was clouded by thoughts of, ‘what’s wrong with me?’ and even more damaging to my peace of mind, ‘why don’t they want me? – which is really just an adult translation of my childhood pleading to my siblings ‘why won’t you play with me?’
I am grateful for those moments where I am reminded how quickly ego can leap into the fray and pull me from my centre.
I am grateful for the reminders that open space for me to find my sense of self-worth amidst ego’s assertions It’s not safe here. Run away! Hide!
In the open space between the fear of “I’m not good enough” and the truth “I am worthy” is that place where I am free to ask myself ‘what’s really going on for me in this situation?’ and listen deeply for the answer within.
Deep within, in the quiet of meditation, in the waters slowly flowing past my window like liquid butter, I breathe into ego’s fears and find my truth shimmering in the light of understanding.
Love is calling me to rise up out of the angst of the there and then into this place where no matter what is happening in the here and now, I am safe in Love’s embrace.
In this space I smile at myself, lovingly, and laugh as I throw my hands up above my hand and exclaim, “Look at me being so human! How fascinating!”
I took an ego trip yesterday. I’ve come back to earth. Come back to the centre of my being present and accepting to all I am, all that is happening without fearing what’s happening will make me less than who I am.
I am a woman of worth, a divine expression of my life lived in the wonder and awe of amazing grace dancing brilliantly in the many facets of its human imperfections.
Every morning at 6:45 I hear a screeching noise. It only lasts a second or two. It always makes me smile.
The noise is the sound of bicycle brakes being applied as a rider takes the curve at the top of the hill on the path that curves under the bridge along the river.
It makes me smile because, while I can’t hear the noise of the traffic crossing the bridge, every week-day morning I hear the bicycle rider. His screeching brakes are at a different frequency.
People say something and I hear something else, or nothing at all. I’m not listening. Or perhaps I’m thinking of something else (like how to argue my point if I don’t want to hear their’s) or it could just be we are speaking different languages, even if we both speak English.
Speakers provide the context through their words. The listener makes the meaning through their context.
Recently, my beloved and I were having a conversation about an issue that is a bit ‘hot’ for both of us. His response didn’t make sense to me. Okay. honestly — I thought his response was stupid. Fortunately, rather than tell him that, or say something else that would have inflamed the situation, I asked for clarification. (I didn’t want to respond too sharply and needed to breathe and listen deeper. A good way to give myself that opportunity is to ask the other person to ‘tell me more or ‘help me understand’ what they mean.)
When he replied, I laughed. Even though I thought we were talking about the same thing, we were actually talking about two different situations. It’s just we’d both assumed the other knew what it was we were discussing. He thought we were talking about something we were going to do and I was talking about something we hadn’t done but had agreed we would do.
It’s easy to get mixed messages, to hear things that are not said or to not hear what is being said or to think the other person knows what you’re talking about even when you haven’t talked about what it is you’re talking about.
As the listener, we make meaning of what the other person said. Sometimes, our meaning-making is different than what they meant. (Okay, almost always because the listener is the one who makes meaning of what they heard and their meaning will always come through what they believe, know, think, feel, see, and perceive.)
I heard the screeching of bicycle brakes this morning and was reminded that what I hear is not always what is being said. Sometimes, the speaker and the listener are not on the same frequency. Sometimes, I’m just not listening to what they’re saying. I’m only hearing what I think and feel about what I hear.
It’s important to tune in to the other to hear what they are saying and to tune out what I think about what they’re saying. To do that I must breathe and seek first to understand.
Once upon a time, I didn’t like it that way. Once upon a time, I believed a perfect life was an antidote to everything I did not like in my life. I spent a lot of time trying to achieve perfection.
And then I fell.
In falling, I discovered the perfection of being in the mess of life. Because, let’s face it, life is messy.
Learning to accept life’s messiness has many gifts. Peace of mind. Contentment. Joy. Life without fear.
When I was striving to create ‘the perfect life’, I spent a lot of time in fear. Fear I’d never make it. Fear I’d be found out as a fraud (perfection is not attainable but I sure tried to act like it was). Fear I’d never reach my goal (which was true because it’s impossible to reach something that does not exist.)
Living in the messy, I am free to celebrate every moment, triumphs and mishaps, highs and lows, falling and flight.
I am free to dance in the rain, and walk blithely under an umbrella.
I am free to sing out loud, and sit in silent contemplation.
In the messy, there is no right way. There is only the way I choose that works for me. And when I choose to walk in love, creating better in the world around me, my way works for me and the world around me.
Once upon a time, I thought a perfect life was the one where I’d always be happy, always feel ‘on my game’, always have everything I wanted.
In real time, I know striving for ‘the perfect life’ is not a goal worth achieving.
In real time, I relish the messy because the messy is full of juicy moments to explore as I dive deep into living from the inside out and outside in, breathing deeply into the beauty and wonder of every facet of my world.
In the messy, I’m okay with beauty and the beast, yin and yang, yoda and Darth Vader. Because in the messy, there is light and dark, all and nothing. And in the all and nothing of this precious life, there is everything I need to know happiness, joy, contentment, love. Because, in the messy. there is perfection in the messy when I am loving all of me, inside and out.
When you get into your car, shut the door and be there for just half a minute. Breathe, feel the energy inside your body, look around at the sky, the trees. The mind might tell you, ‘I don’t have time.’ But that’s the mind talking to you. Even the busiest person has time for 30 seconds of space.
When I stepped into the role of Interim Exec. Dir. at the family emergency homeless shelter and housing provider where I work, I made a commitment to write a weekly intention and share it with staff. I’ve been doing it ever since.
Yesterday, I forgot.
Oh, I thought about it at one point but we’re in the middle of budgets for next fiscal year and thinking about it did not translate into creating and sharing my weekly intention.
This morning, I sent it out.
I thought about not doing it this week, of skipping it, but that would not be the right thing to do.
I made a commitment. It is very important for me that I keep my commitments.
For me, my listening for my daily intention is all about that ‘space’ Tolle writes about.
To hear my intention, I must take a few moments to slip into the silence, breathe into the quiet and let the words rise up as I feel the energy inside my body, the air on my skin, the darkness and the light that surrounds me.
In the beginning, when I first started sharing my weekly intention with staff, my head-chatter warned me, “Don’t do it!” They’ll think you’re stupid. Crazy. They’ll laugh at you. Snicker behind your back.
Since the first time I shared my weekly intention, I have received many comments about how people appreciate my taking the time to do it. “You remind me to stop and breathe sometimes and not get all uptight about what’s going on in the shelter,” one staff member wrote.
My intention when I began sharing my weekly intention, was to create a space for transparency, openness, thought-full conversation. I wanted staff to know who I am beyond just the ‘title’. I wanted us to share a moment of space each week.
As Tolle suggests, what’s most important is that in setting and sharing an intention, an opportunity is created for each of us to step into a moment of ‘space’ where, amidst the busy-ness and chaos of a homeless shelter, everyone is invited to stop for a moment, breathe and remember that even in the busy-ness, there is always space to connect to the calm within and be present to all that is happening without worrying about all that is happening.
There is a responsibility in making a difference. A universal pact that the difference should, do no harm.
In Ethical Intelligence by Bruce Weinstein, PhD, the first principle Dr. Weinstein cites as essential to living an ethical life is ‘To do no harm’. He goes on to say that if you must do harm, minimize it. The example he gives is when you have no choice but to terminate an employee, do it in a way that retains their dignity, that respects and honours them as well as you and your organization.
Recently, in an effort to do something good for someone, I harmed them. It wasn’t intentional, harm seldom is when we come from a place of wanting to do good. But, in the act of creating ‘a moment’, I didn’t consider the consequences of some of the aspects to what I was doing and the recipient felt unheard and unseen.
I am 100% accountable for my footprint in the world and how I walk in other people’s lives.
When I take a misstep, when I create harm or hurt in another’s life, intentional or unintentional, it is my responsibility to get accountable and clean up my mess.
The most effective way I know to do that is to acknowledge my mistake, apologize (no excuses, no rationalizations, no blame-game), get accountable and commit to making amends and doing better.
Recently, I made a difference I didn’t want to make.
It provided an opportunity to recommit to doing my best, being my best, to paying attention, staying focused and present in what I do.
We all make mistakes. Mistakes can make a lasting impression that creates ‘worse’ when we do not clean them up. We can pretend, ignore and carry-on blithely,
We can hold ourselves accountable for what we’ve done.
Mistakes are an opportunity to create better when we turn up, pay attention, speak our truth and be 100% accountable for ourselves. When we turn up without expectation of our mistakes being made okay by the other and instead use our mistakes as an opportunity to be vulnerable, to create intimacy, closeness, better, we create a space where resentment does not find fertile ground to grow as we move closer in love and forgiveness.
In my mistake I have taken action. Embraced the opportunity to learn and grow. I have apologized and am committed to stay present in my desire to make a difference and do better every day.
It is the best I can do and my best is good enough.
“Kids without clear lines wander/experiment in ways that can lead to confusion and unhealthy behaviour […]
We all want to do good but don’t always do good – so it is important we have a deep early grounding in what is OK vs. what we should have twinges of discomfort about. These things, clear or fuzzy, stay with us all our lives.”
Every day at the family emergency shelter where I work, I see this statement in action.
Kids under stress doing things kids under stress do.
Add in stressed parents and the challenge becomes even greater. How do you cope effectively with your children’s under stress behaviours when you are experiencing extreme stress too?
Being in an emergency shelter is stressful for everyone, so there is little opportunity for the stress to be eased. Thus, little opportunity for the kids to not be doing things kids do under stress.
The brain science is simple. The solution isn’t.
Stress impairs a child’s brain development.
Continual stress creates toxic stress = compromised brain development
human growing process,
Emotional, mental, physical impoverishment into teenage years and adulthood.
We can’t end adult homelessness if we don’t end homelessness for children.
A family emergency shelter is not the problem. Nor is it the solution.
A stable, predictable home environment is the solution, but how do you create ‘home’ when the parents themselves have never had the benefit of an environment conducive to healthy brain development?
See, that’s the crux of it. For many of the families we serve at the shelter, poverty is an intergenerational cycle. They have never known anything other than the stress of living in a home where everyone is struggling to make ends meet, lessen the pressure of never having enough and coping with the instability and limitations that come with parents under stress.
What parents do. Children do.
Every parent wants to do what is right and best for their children. Every parent wants to ‘do better’. But, when your starting point is so far below the poverty line, you can’t see beyond the stress of never having enough, it becomes even more daunting to rise above the line to do better for your children.
I wish some days I had a magic wand that would heal all the wounds we cannot see but are so clearly evident in the behaviours of the children we see at the shelter.
I don’t have a magic wand.
What I do have is the opportunity to create better so that those families who do come to the emergency shelter for support, find a more inviting path out of the stress of poverty and homelessness into a world that is more supportive of their desire to provide a better world for their children.