Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Finding connectedness in our broken and whole hearts

It is so easy to forget to be thoughtful and kind when someone shares an opinion that rubs up against our hearts, stirring discord and animosity in our minds.

It is so easy to forget, their voice matters, even when we don’t want to hear what they have to say. Possibly, just as much as they don’t want to hear us.

Yet, when we practice listening from our heart, with our whole being engaged in offering up our attention, without  seeking to criticize or get our opinions heard, we create space for all voices to see into the uncommon ground beyond the obvious, to find sacred ground upon which to stand, together, united in our humanity.

It is not easy, this place of holding democracy in our hearts and letting go of side-taking and name-calling, blaming and shaming. Yet, in its presence, we hold the capacity to both love and disagree, critique and find common ground, to weep for inequities and the bigger evils that trap us all in victimhood, and find connectedness in our brokenness and our wholeness.

In our connectedness we learn to savour the beauty of our humanity and through our heart of hearts, see one another as what we truly are; human beings on a shared journey of life on earth.

In this sacred space, there is no ‘other’. There is only ‘us’. One humanity. One planet. One shared experience of life.

 


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Dinner at the Inn.

Photo by Jaco Pretorius on Unsplash

The first sitting is for families with infants.

There are three of them. Three mothers. Five children. One child is celebrating his 2nd birthday.

I wonder about celebrating a birthday in a homeless shelter. About the memories built. The one’s lost.

I wonder how the mother keeps up such a brave and loving face. How she manages to smile and love-on her two infant sons so beautifully in such crisis.

I do not ask.

It is not my place to do so.

I am there to help shelter staff manage the chaos that is dinner-time at the shelter.

We are understaffed. Over-capacity. Summer holidays. Sick time. Maternity leaves. And an unprecedented number of families seeking shelter.

In a building designed to accommodate 27 families, we have not been under 30 families throughout July. One night we had 40 families in shelter. That’s unprecedented.

At the same time, we are giving the 3rd floor shelter space a Big Refresh, painting it to be a more calming and supportive environment. Less institutional. More welcoming.

It’s a week long exercise to paint each of three shelter areas. The second floor was completed two weeks ago. We’ve moved onto the third. Which means the families staying on one side of the third floor are being sheltered every night at our external emergency space in the basement of Knox church throughout this week. Next week, the families on the other side will pack up and move to Knox.

It is not ideal. But we need to ensure the shelter space is renewed and clean and intentionally designed to promote healing through its environmental look and feel.

It was scheduled now because July is generally a quieter month. We didn’t know it would get this busy.

Yesterday morning, at a leadership meeting, one of the team leads talked about the chaos of dinner-time. Of trying to feed over 100 people in an hour to ensure families get nutritional meals as well as are able to get to where they need to be on time.

We’re constantly short-staffed, a team lead said.

How can I help? I asked.

Come to dinner!

Who could refuse such an invitation?

Which is why I ended up helping supervise mealtime with the team.

I was mostly just an extra body trying to keep children from racing out of the dining room without their parent(s).

Mostly, I stood in awe and watched shelter staff manage children and parents and plates of food and glasses of milk and water, wipe up spill-overs, catch plates before they hit the floor and answer the questions of the volunteers who came in to serve the meal and make lunches for the next day.

In the face of crying children, laughing children, children who would not sit and eat and children who wanted to hang off the gate installed at the entrance to the doorway to keep children from wandering out and walking out onto the busy avenue, as has happened twice in the last month, the staff are engaged. Caring. Compassionate. Kind. They share fist pumps and pick up children and carry them around as they make them laugh and help mothers navigate strollers and tote bags and coax unruly youngsters who don’t want to eat, or don’t like salad, or would rather have juice than milk.

It is, in many ways, a typical family dinner scene with young children.

Parents trying to get a child to eat more than one bite. To drink their milk. To not bounce up and down in their booster seat. To not fight with a sibling.

It’s dinner at family tables the world over.

And then, it’s not.

Because this is an emergency family shelter. A place of crisis. Of high anxiety and feelings of loss, uncertainty, fear, confusion. Of young minds developing, seeing and experiencing in a place young minds struggle to comprehend.

It is a communal space. Meals are in shifts. Twelve tables. Five chairs at each table. Families with young infants first. Knox families second so they can get on the bus at six. Second floor next. And then the remaining families on the 3rd floor in two more shifts. Each family called down via radio as tables become free.

There is no time to linger. To talk about the day’s happenings. To share stories that last more than a few moments.

This dinner time is exactly one hour and fifteen minutes long, broken up into fifteen minute segments.

Because once the families leave, the volunteers clean up, do the dishes, finish off sandwich making and get everything spruced up for the next day.

They too need to get home to families and dinner tables.

The kitchen staff need to get the prep work done for the next day and the shelter staff need to ensure families are where they’re supposed to be before the night shift turns up.

I helped in the dining room last night.

I left feeling tired. Humbled. Grateful.

Grateful the shelter is there to help families in crisis. Grateful for the amazing staff who care so deeply. Grateful to be part of such an amazing team.

Namaste.

___________________________________

Photo by Jaco Pretorius on Unsplash

 


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The General and The Gangs

“They call me General.”

I am standing on the pavement in the parking lot beside the homeless shelter where I work.

It is the last Saturday morning of Stampede and the Kinsmen Club of Stampede City are serving up their annual pancake breakfast for guests of the shelter, and anyone who wants to drop by.

There’s no long line-up of blue-jean wearing, cowboy hat toting folk snaking around the block.

This breakfast attracts a different kind of folk. These are the people who live on the margins. The one’s who don’t tote designer bags and jeans but carry instead a less desirable label. Homeless.

Like the man in front of me.

Chiselled jaw. Hollowed out cheekbones. Dark-almost-black piercing eyes. He stands straight. Tall. Proud.

He tells me of his life. Of growing up on a Reserve and Residential School. Of spending the last four months out of prison, the longest stretch he’s ever managed to stay on the outside, he says.

It’s the booze, he tells me. As long as I don’t drink, I don’t get in trouble.

He got the name General in prison. It’s more a mark of his position. Or at least the one he once held, in a gang.

Gangs aren’t good, he mutters. I’m glad to see there aren’t any here this morning.

He tells me of losing too many friends. Of dodging too many bullets.

It sounds horrific, I say.

It is, he replies.

And then he shrugs. But what can you do? It’s about survival.

I look around at the fifty or so people seated at the tables lining the pavement.

They are all trying to survive. Trying to find their way.

And I watch the children play. They are running amongst the tables. Chasing each other. Laughing. Being kids.

It is concerning when children and adult single’s experiencing homeless mix together.

Too many drugs. Too many harsh realities edging up against a child’s developing mind, body, spirit.

This morning is calm. Everyone is enjoying the sunshine. The breakfast. The feeling of community.

Sometimes, this parking lot beside the shelter isn’t so peaceful.

Drug deals. Drug doses. Overdoses.

We are in the Beltline area of the city. Our family shelter bracketed by two emergency adult single shelters.

Their guests are also welcome at this breakfast. As are people from the community, though not many from outside the homeless community come.

There’s the limo driver who drives into the parking lot, parks his car at the far edge and walks over for breakfast.

There’s the guy in his souped up flashy blue vehicle who parks in the laneway and unfolds his muscled body out of the driver’s seat. I wonder if he’s just come back from the gym and is looking to load up on pancakes, eggs and sausage.

And the guy who walks his bike into the parking lot, a big black dog lumbering along behind him.

One of the Kinsmen tells me how this is his favourite breakfast of Stampede.

Everyone is so grateful, he says. They all say thank you. They are all so appreciative.

I look around at the gathered crowd. At the man with whom I’m speaking.

Humble. Proud. Wanting to find a better way to get through this life.

Like all of us, they are trying to make sense of their world.

Their struggles are great. It’s not just about making ends meet. They struggle to put an end to the past that haunts them, their keeps them stranded on the margins, struggling to find another way through this world that isn’t marked by poverty, lack and the hopelessness that seeps in with every breath.

There are no gangs this Saturday morning. I am grateful.

Not just for the children’s sake. For all of us.


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…but not under this sun.

Yesterday, Ana Daksina from Timeless Classics responded to my post with these beautiful words:

When you are travelling through darkness and cannot see; turn on the lights.

When we cover our light for fear we will outshine another, when we mock those who would shine brightly, we give way to the darkness and diminish the brilliance of our human essence.

When we choose to ignore the darkness, or let it rest in place, we walk in darkness too. No matter how hard we want to pretend there is no darkness, it is always present, always searching for ways to encompass the light just as the moon seeks the light of the sun.

May each of us find the courage to speak with loving hearts in the face of anger, may we all search for ways to create common ground that reflect the best of our humanity.

And in our hearts, may we all carry only love as we walk under the light of this sun together.

Namaste.

____________

Thank you Ana for your inspiration.

 


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Will you choose compassion?

I had an OpEd published in our local newspaper on the weekend. It was about homelessness and choice.

There were many voices of support. Of people applauding me for my words and insight.

I like feeling connected to people who agree with me. It’s immensely human and makes me feel good!

But what about those who wrote in to disagree? Who believe, even though I wrote that homelessness is not a choice, it’s a lack of choice, a lack of resilience, a lack of many things — that homelessness is a choice. That if people just got jobs and cleaned up, their lives would be all better.

In the face of their words, I don’t feel so connected.

Their words cause me despair.

Their view of the world causes me consternation.

In the face of their differing worldview there is a part of me that would really just like to call them names, tell them they’re wrong, tell them to ‘get a life’.

Yet, their views have as much right to be heard as mine. Their views are equally as important to the conversation as mine because in their words the truth of the world according to their view rings true.

What will I choose?

Will I choose to condemn and complain?

Or will I choose compassion.?

Will I listen to understand, not to judge?

Will I create space for common ground, rather than a battleground?

In those moments of dissent, finding compassion, acting with integrity, being present is vital.

Because if I lash back, if I choose to discount or ignore their voices, then I am creating a world where us versus them is the norm. Where my voice is the only voice that matters to me and they can damn well go… blah blah blah.

Bottomline, when I respond from a place of condemnation, I am contributing my worst, not my best.

To understand another’s point of view, to find common ground, we must stand with open mind and heart. We must listen deeply without judgement and be willing to be vulnerable.

To be vulnerable, we must choose compassion.

Namaste.


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The value in all things

What do you mean you want to lay here? I was here first.

It was a relaxing weekend.

C.C.’s daughter’s play on Friday night, (quirky, thought-provoking and well done) and a late dinner at our favourite neighbourhood restaurant, Notable.

There’s value in sharing in your partner’s pride of his children’s accomplishments and savouring a meal together to talk about life and kids and what’s going on.

On Saturday, Darwin and his team arrived to clean our gutters and windows as well as wash the outside of the house. I got to watch.

There is value in watching other people work! Especially when the result of their work is a house ready for the painters to arrive this week to paint the trim and such.

C.C. and I went grocery shopping and spent the rest of the day putzing around the house and getting dinner ready.

There is value in doing things together. Especially when it enhances intimacy and feeling connected.

Friends for dinner and a game of Settlers on Saturday night, more friends and my youngest daughter and partner for dinner Sunday night, and other than that, no agenda.

There is value in having no agenda. Value in simply going with the flow of what is happening, or not. Especially when it involves good friends and time spent together laughing and trying to outwit your opponents, all in good fun! (I lost btw but then, I never play the game to win. I just like the time spent playing with people I enjoy!)

Sunday, ever hopeful we’d be able to sit on the deck for appetizers before dinner, I put all the pillows back out after taking them in the previous evening, and then, because they were calling me to relax, I settled in for awhile to read and watch the river flow by.

There is value in watching the river flow by. Especially when the wind picks up and clouds blow in later in the day and sitting out is no longer an option. Capturing the moment and savouring its beauty is time well spent.

Yesterday, it rained. Beaumont and I had a delightful walk. The earth smelled fresh, the rain fresher. When we returned home, he lay on his mat by the front door to dry and I curled up in the corner of the sofa with my coffee, a blanket and a spy novel. Sigh. Nothing better than a rainy long weekend Monday reading a novel. I did pull out a book I’ve been reading on Leadership but its appeal waned as I sank into the comfort of being inside and dry on a beautiful rainy morning.

There is value in escaping into a book for the pure pleasure of the escape.

And don’t get me wrong. I ‘got things done’ too. There was value in those things too. Like scraping the spillover paint that was adhered to the front window since the renovation. That was a big job! I didn’t realize the streaks were inside until after the outside of the windows were cleaned. Getting a clear view makes a difference.

And I spent some time walking around the neighbourhood calling for Marley. He is still out a-wandering. I hope he comes home soon.

Whether experiencing hardship or ease, seeking to find value in all things increases my sense of gratitude for all things. Living in gratitude creates a world of harmony and joy where love flows filled with the grace of going with the flow in the river of my life.