Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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SPENT: Can you beat poverty?

I took The Challenge. I clicked on SPENT, an online simulation of living life in the poverty zone.

Poverty sucks.

There’s no way to win at life, get ahead, to make the ‘ethical’ choice when the decisions you have to make always come back down to — will I have enough money to pay the rent, buy food to feed my children, pay their school fees, pay insurance, utilities and get to my minimum wage job on time.

At one point in the game, while driving my children to school, I hit an icy patch and my car slid into a parked car causing damage. I had a choice. Stop. Try to find the owner. Leave a note. Get the kids to school and be late for work (which would cost me precious money). OR. Leave the scene and hope no one saw me. Except my kids of course. They were watching from the back seat. Tracking every move I took. Learning from every decision I made.

Sure, in my non-poverty defined real life, I wouldn’t drive away. I would be accountable.

But in my real life, I have more than $326 left in the bank to take me to the end of the month 20 long days away. I earn more than $9.00 an hour.

In my real life, I have resources, resilience, possibilities.

In SPENT, I lasted 11 days before I hit bottom. And even then, if my life had been circumscribed by longterm exposure to poverty, I may not have chosen to pay for my kids field trip because that $15 made a difference between milk and bread on the table for the week, or not. And maybe I would have bought a new shirt for work when I spilt bleach on it while helping the dishwasher. At least then I wouldn’t have lost a day’s pay because my boss sent me home for ‘bad attitude’. And maybe…

That’s the challenge of poverty. “Maybe tomorrow will be better” is never an option. The decisions today are between one hard rock place and losing it all. There’s no soft landing, no cushion. There’s only rock bottom, every day.

In the game, when I spent out, I didn’t worry about what happened to my kids when we didn’t have a roof over our heads. Or all my stuff, at least the stuff I was able to salvage when I lost my home and had to move to a rental apartment. It was just a game.

But what about in real life? What really happens?

Yup. Poverty Sucks.

It sucks the life, hope, possibility out of daily living turning it into a daily grind against hard rock places that will not give you a break.

What about you? Can you beat poverty?

 


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Spin Your Own Dreams

When my daughters were little I wrote them a story about an unhappy caterpillar who cried and cried all the time. One day, his tears fell on a leaf fairy sleeping on a leaf. Surprised by the sudden rain pouring on her head, she awoke and demanded to know why the caterpillar was crying.

“I hate being a caterpillar,” the unhappy fellow wailed. “I hate it. Hate it,” and he shook his tiny body ferociously and cried some more.

“If you weren’t a caterpillar what would you rather be?” asked the leaf fairy.

“What a stupid question,” said the caterpillar. “How can I be anything else? I’m stuck in this body.”

“Well, I’m a fairy and I’ve got magic and I can turn you into anything you want,” the leaf fairy told him. She wasn’t used to being questioned so she had a bit of attitude around her response.

The Caterpillar thought about this for a moment. Magic. Hmmm… Anything he wanted…. Well in that case. “A rose,” the caterpillar promptly replied.

“Okay,” said the Leaf fairy. “Close your eyes. Here comes the magic.”

And the caterpillar scrunched up his eyes tightly and held his breath. And the leaf fairy whispered a few magic words and poof, she changed him into a beautiful red rose.

Alas, the rose was prickly and thorny. No one could get close to him. He wanted to be more… likeable. He cried again and asked to be turned into an iris.

“Okay,” said the leaf fairy. And once again, she cast her magic and he became an Iris.

The iris, however, was too blue. He was tired of being blue all the time and wanted something happier. Like being a bright, sunny faced daisy he pleaded with the leaf fairy.

The leaf fairy was getting a little put out with the caterpillar’s demands but agreed to give him a little more magic.

And once again, the caterpillar was dissatisfied. Being a daisy was sunny and bright and he had lots of arms to reach out and touch people with, but it was rooted to the ground. Everyone had to come to him!

Just then a brilliantly coloured butterfly flitted by. The caterpillar watched her in awe and then he knew what he really wanted to be. He wanted to be a beautiful butterfly with gossamer wings that shimmered in the sun, free to fly wherever he wanted.

He pleaded his case one more time with the leaf fairy. “Okay,” she said, “but this is the last magic I can do for you today.”

The caterpillar closed his eyes and waited. The leaf fairy whispered the magic words, sprinkled leaf dust all over him and when he opened his eyes anticipating wings to fly free, the caterpillar wailed in dismay. He was a caterpillar once again.

“I told you I wanted to be a butterfly,” he cried. “I hate being a caterpillar.”

“You are a butterfly,” the leaf fairy told him. “Inside you there is a beautiful pair of wings yearning to be free. But first, you must learn to spin your own dreams.”

_________________

Sometimes, I have not believed I could fly. Sometimes, I have clung to my disbelief in the possibility of change as I held steadfast to my resistance to dream. Sometimes, I have embraced the lie that I am not powerful enough to make my dreams come true, and sometimes, I have grounded myself so deeply in my fear of flying, I haven’t even bothered to try to stretch my wings for fear I will fall.

Regardless of the reasons why I haven’t catapulted my dreams into reality, when my dreams don’t come true the way I want them to, I have a choice. To find value in what is, or…. to hold still, take a deep breath, and keep on spinning my dreams into reality.

When dreams don’t come true, it’s because the dreamer spun in a different direction, changed their course, or simply gave up spinning in any direction at all or perhaps it’s because they were spinning cotton, not silk.

Today, I commit to spinning my dreams in the direction of my goals. Today, I choose to affirm, my dreams are mine to spin in every colour of the rainbow.

Today, I commit to spreading my wings. I don’t know their full extent until I reach beyond the edges of my imagination, out into the universe where dreams come true because I’m willing to spin my own dreams.

What about you? Are you willing to spin your own dreams?

__________________

For Renee.


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Come. Explore.

Her name is Imogene. Genie for short.

She’s kind of like a genie. Whimsical and mystical. Colourful. She glides through space. Navigates tight corners with ease and carries on as if no one is watching.

My Genie

Genie is my new bike. We made our acquaintance yesterday. It promises to be an interesting ride.

Acquiring Genie has been one of my post-retirement goals.

Previously in my life, I loved to run. It was a passion and an outlet. It kept me balanced. I’d run for two hours and everything in life fell into perspective. It definitely helped me not take myself too seriously!

But my feet don’t like running any more. Arthritis makes it uncomfortable.

I tried swimming but when the weather’s beautiful, as it is now, there’s nothing quite like being out on the trails, smelling the flowers, grass, trees, hearing the leaves on trees rustle with the stories of the wind as it whispers through the branches.

My Genie is tourquoise and purple. She has pretty flowers painted on her fenders and a really cute basket that can also be a totebag.

Along the bike trail.

When I was investigating bikes, I had no idea there was a whole category called, “Comfort Ride”. All I knew was that I had seen lots of people riding around on bikes that let them sit up and not hunch over. Oh, and I didn’t want something that required an engineering degree to figure out the gears.

Genie has seven gears. That’s all I need. I’m not looking to go fast nor to race. I just want to be able to ride in comfort along the over 250 kilometers of bike trails in the city, enjoying my ride.

What I really like about Genie though is how she takes me back to my English Racing Green Raleigh from childhood. I got her after my two sisters and brother were done with her and I loved her. By the time she became mine, she’d travelled all the way from England with us to Calgary when I was a child and even made the return journey when we moved back to France when I was a pre-teen.

That bike carried me places. From the Well’s farm at the end of the dirt road where we used to live, a place I loved to visit before we moved to Metz, France where I rode her along cobblestoned roadways lined with Plane trees. That bike was my ‘get out Dodge’ companion.

I have no memory of when that Raleigh left my life, but I’m grateful Genie has entered it and reminded me of my love of exploring my environs on a bicycle. I’m sure I’ll have lots of adventures to share as Genie carries me places on beautiful days like today. Oh. And hopefully, she’ll not only give me wheels to explore but the gears to also stay/get in shape!

Happy Trails!


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How to make the world a better place.

He is sitting on the floor in the middle of a mezzanine area at the mall when I see him. Backpack on the floor behind him. Elbows resting on knees. Both hands covering his ears.

He is looking down between his legs, head bowed, tucked into his shoulders.

I think for a moment he is on his cellphone. I think he’s just sitting there talking.

No one seems to be bothered by him. Or notice his presence. They walk by, skirting him. Avoiding contact.

Thoughts quickly flit through my mind.

“He’s okay. I shouldn’t disturb him. I’d only embarrass him, and myself, if I stop and ask he’s okay.”

“I don’t think he’s on his phone. Yes he is. No. His hands are simply covering his ears. You’d best stop.”

“No. Let him be. Give him his privacy. – There’s no privacy sitting in the middle of the floor in a busy mall.”

I stop, bend down. I keep my voice soft. Gentle. I touch one of his shoulders as I speak. “Excuse me sir. Are you okay?”

He doesn’t move.

“Sir. Are you okay. Do you need help?”

Slowly he looks up at me. He doesn’t say anything. He just looks at me.

“Is something wrong? Can I help you?” I ask.

“You tell me,” he replies.

“Are you okay? Did you fall down?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbles.

I look around. People are walking past. No one is looking at us. I look towards the Starbucks kiosk a few feet away.

“Can I get you some water?” I ask him.

He doesn’t say anything. He’s gone back to holding his head. Staring at the floor.

“Wait here,” I tell him. “I’m going to get you a glass of water and call for help.”

I go to the Starbucks, ask one of the staff for a glass of water and to call Security. “There’s a man sitting on the floor in the middle of the foyer,” I tell the girl and I point over to where the man is sitting.

We both look. He is now lying sprawled out on the floor. People keep walking past and no one stops.

“Can you call Security please?” I ask. “He’s in some distress.” And I go back to the man and sit on the floor and wait for security.

He is unresponsive. Talking in short bursts of incoherent sentences.

I tell him my name. Ask for his.

He looks at me. Suspicious. Leary. He offers his hand. “I’m Trevor.”

I take his hand and gently ask. “Have you been drinking Trevor?”

He nods his head. Up and down. “I can drink a lot,” he says.

“How much have you had today?” I ask.

He doesn’t answer. Shrugs his shoulders.

We sit quietly.

“I don’t know what to do,” he suddenly says and he starts to cry.

“Are you feeling overwhelmed?” I ask.

And he nods his head again. Up and down. Up and down.

“Breathe,” I tell him. “Deep slow breaths.”

He gulps in air. He’s almost sobbing now.

And people keep walking by.

A security officer from the mall rides up on his bike. Parks it. Walks over to where Trevor and I are still sitting on the floor.

“Did he fall?” he asks me.

“I don’t know.” I tell him. “I was walking by and saw him sitting here and stopped to ask if he needed help. His name is Trevor.”

“Hi Trevor,” the security man says in a friendly voice. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know,” replies Trevor. “I don’t know.” And he covers his ears with his hands again and looks down at the floor.

The officer is young. Kind. Caring. He too attempts to ask questions. He too gets few answers.

He turns to me. “Anything else you can tell me? Did he fall? Do you know if he hit his head?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, inadvertently repeating Trevor’s response. “He says he’s been drinking. He’s feeling overwhelmed. He was just sitting here when I came upon him. He is sweating a lot though. And he’s not very clear in his speech.”

“I’ve called EMS,” says the security man.

And so the hour unfolds. A man. Lost. Frightened. Overwhelmed sits on the floor of a busy mall crying out for help.

“I don’t want to fall apart,” he says. “I’m so sorry for falling apart.”

“It’s okay to fall apart Trevor,” I reply. “Sometimes, the only thing we can do is to let it fall apart so we can find the pieces we want.”

He looks at me. Tears stream down his face. “You’re too nice,” he sobs. “Don’t be so nice.”

A police officer arrives. He asks if I’m with the man on the floor. Trevor looks up. “Oh no,” he cries quickly. “She’s not part of the problem. I am. I’m sorry to be a problem. I am so sorry.”

And the police officer quickly reassures Trevor he’s not a problem. We’re all there just trying to find out how we can help.

EMS arrive. Trevor looks at me. “I don’t want to make trouble,” he says.

“You’re not,” I reply. “The lady from EMS just wants to help you. Can you let her?”

And I move away to make room for the EMS worker.

Another officer arrives. Asks if I can fill him in on any details. I tell him what happened.

“So you were just at the mall to shop and happened upon this guy?”

“Yes.”

He smiles. “Well. Thanks for helping out. You okay?”

I smile. I don’t tell him I work in a place where this kind of thing happens every day. I smile and tell him I’m okay. “I hope Trevor is too.”

The officer nods his head. “That’s our job,” he says and smiles again. “You’re job’s done here.”

“Yes it is,” I reply and walk away leaving Trevor and those who could help him to do their job.

Life’s like that. We are on a journey, destination in clear sight when something unexpected appears on our path. I had gone to the mall to run an errand and was walking back to my car when I happened upon Trevor sitting on the floor.

I couldn’t just walk by and leave him. I had to stand in until help arrived. And maybe, sitting on that floor was the best thing Trevor could do in that moment. Maybe, sitting on the floor is his next step to getting help for whatever it is that is overwhelming him today. Maybe, my stepping in was what he needed to get out of the dark space he was lost in.

“What do you see when you see me?” he asked at one point.

“I see a fellow human being in distress,” I replied.

His eyes went wide. “You see me,” he whispered and he started to cry and my heart cried with him.

_______________________________________

As I was considering what I wanted to write about this morning, I came upon this blogpost I shared on my old blog — Recover Your Joy, several years ago.

It was a great reminder for me about what is important in life and living. And though it happened some time ago, it still rings true today.

We all have the power to make the world a better place when we stop walking on by and start caring for one another.


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Curating space for art to happen

Freefall Wednesday Writing. From my journal.

I haven’t been in the studio for awhile. A least not painting.

I have been in it ‘curating the space’, as my friend PL calls it.

I like that idea.

Curating the space.

Creating a space that not just allows for art to happen, but also pleases and soothes my soul. A space that allows me to forget myself as I fall into the sublime bliss of creative expression.

Forgetting myself isn’t always easy. The ego doesn’t like the forgetting. It likes to believe it is in control. In charge. In command. Yet, to create, to allow for art to happen, I must forget myself by letting go of ego’s need to constantly “know best”.

It is not just my ego that struggles with the forgetting. It is me. All of me.

I want to be the one making the decisions, deciding what happens next. Believing I know it all.

I want to believe I am in control of my life, determining its course and direction. Yet, to truly live bravely and love myself fiercely, I must dare to be in the moment of life, and the creative process, happening. I must dare to accept what is knowing what I can control is how I respond to life’s situations. I cannot control the wind, I can adjust my sails to weather every type of storm, every condition.

Life is a creative adventure. Creating space for the adventure to be a reflection of my life through creative expression is my passion.

I’m curating space right now. Incubating ideas. Planing seeds.

And in the process, I am allowing what is to become visible through the environment and space around me.

I am the conduit for the muse in my life to freely express herself unhindered by my ego’s calling me to ‘get control of her’.

How fascinating.

Namaste.

_____________________

 


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A Love Poem A Day

Several years ago, for an entire year, I awoke every morning and wrote my beloved a love poem.

It started out as a gift of a love poem a day for two weeks.

And then… I got kinda uppity about how he was receiving my gift, let him know how I would have responded if I was receiving the gift of a love poem a day and well, let’s just say my telling him in no uncertain terms my expectations of his behaviour did not go over well.

I had to make amends.

At the time, he was living in another city and when flowers arrived for Valentine’s Day, I realized I had totally forgotten! I knew I didn’t have time to get him chocolates or anything concrete so, I offered up a pretty email with a love poem and a committment to send him a love poem everyday for the next two weeks.

It only took one day for my attitude to interfere with my intention.

Originally, my thought had been to do something that would create intimacy over the distance. Instead, I created more distance when I suggested he open my emails at 6am when I sent them versus his normal afternoon reading which was when he got to his personal emails.

Harrumph. I responded via email. If I were getting a love poem a day it would be the first thing I read in the morning.

Well, you’re not me, he replied, and went on to suggest that a gift came without expectations of how the recipient received it. That’s what made it a gift.

Ouch.

He was right.

And so, I wrote him a love poem apology and committed to getting my expectations out of the way.

When I shifted, everything shifted.

By the time the two week mark appeared, I was committed to writing a love poem a day and he loved receiving them. So I kept at it for a year.

And in that year my understanding of Love grew deeper.

It was a gift to begin every day writing about love, thinking about my beloved and focussing on giving the gift of words to the one I love.

Recently, I shared that story with a group of coaches at Choices Seminars during the G2 training process on how to guide the trainees through the process of crafting the words to their purpose statement. In the actual process, there are a series of questions that lead them deeper and deeper into the truth of what they do naturally in the world to create a difference – which eventually leads to their purpose statement coming clear.

On that day, I was the example to show them how powerful the questions are, and how beautiful a journey writing your purpose statement can be.

As I answered the questions I gained more and more and insight into what that year of writing a love poem a day gave me and my beloved. It drew us closer together. It gave him a look into my day from across the miles (I started taking a photo everyday and writing my poem to that photo and sending both). It deepened my understanding of Love and it gave C.C. the thing I wanted most to give him and had messed up so badly at the beginning — the experience of receiving Love without any expectations.

Ultimately, what I learned is that Love has no expecations. It does not look for words of affirmation, reassurance nor reciprocity. Love is and when we share it without an expecation of how the other will receive it, or give it back, we transform ourselves and our relationships.

My purpose is to lovingly touch hearts, open minds and set spirits free. When I sent my first poems and let him know my expectations of how he should receive them, I was not lovingly touching his heart; I was attempting to hammer it into submission to my way of loving.

Love doesn’t work that way.

Writing a Love Poem a Day helped me learn that vital lesson in living and loving with grace.

Why not give it a try?

 


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We’re all on this journey of life together.

I have stopped by my old hairdressers to buy the shampoo I love. They recently moved and this is my first time at their new Beltline area location.

As I am about to pay, I ask the young woman at the desk how she likes the new location.

“We love it,” she replies enthusiastically. “Except for all the hobos and street people everywhere. They’re awful.” And she goes on to talk about how annoyed she is by ‘their’ presence.

I take a breath. For a moment I consider not buying my products. Or, buying and leaving without saying anything.

Silence in the face of ignorance is not my strong suit.

“Just as a piece of information,” I say to her as calmly and kindly as I can. “Hobo is a really derogatory term. The individuals you are referencing are human beings, like you and me, who have fallen on really hard times. You may want to consider using the phrase ‘individuals experiencing homelessness’. It’s less offensive.”

She looks at me. Squirms a little and pastes on a smile. “Oh well, you know, it’s just a word,” she said.

“Yes. And words have power. Did you know there’s an apartment building across the street that provides housing…”

And before I can finish my sentence she chimes in. “Oh yes. It’s a halfway house.”

I take another breath. “Actually, it’s not. It’s Permanent Supportive Housing for individuals exiting homelessness. In this case, the building supports veterans who were experiencing homelessness before moving into the building. That building is their permanent home. They live there as residents of this community. Halfway houses are generally for individuals existing the justice system in preparation of their moving on to their own housing.”

“Oh. Well there’s always lots of activity over there.” She says it in a way that makes me grit my teeth as though I’ve just heard nails scraping along a blackboard.

I breathe deeply and remind myself that ignorance is not a crime. It comes from a lack of understanding.

“I’m sure there is. It can be a struggle to leave the homeless identity behind. After years of service to your country, and then years of struggling on the street it’s hard to believe people care or that you’ve actually got a home of your own.” I take another breath and ask, “Have you gone over to meet the staff and residents?”

She looks at me with wide eyes. “Of course not!”

I smile at her and say, “It’s one way to get a better understanding of what’s going on,” I tell her. I know I probably sound a little condescending. I don’t mean to but I can feel my blood coursing through my veins. I am vibrating at a little too high a frequency.

I work on calming my racing mind. On changing my tone and position.

“I worked in the homeless sector for a lot of years,” I tell her. “Connecting and getting to know your neighbours is a great way to build a community.”

She packs up my products into a paper bag and hands it to me. “Well you have a nice day,” she says.

“I will,” I reply. “I hope you do too.”

And I leave.

And inside I feel sad and angry. Upset and dissatisfied.

For fifteen years I worked to shift perceptions of homelessness in our city. And here was a young woman, probably early 20s, who still carried the bias and misconceptions that existed when I first started working in the homeless serving sector.

We cannot know the answers unless we’re willing to ask the questions.

And we cannot ask the questions unless we hear the truth of where our judgements mislead us.

For that young woman, she may never ask another question about homelessness. Hopefully, if nothing else, she will stop spreading misinformation.

Then again, the story she shares may be about the nasty old lady who walked in and was all uppity and judgemental about her use of the word ‘hobo’ who then had to give her a lecture on homelessness..

And I breathe.

We are all just struggling to make sense of our world.

We are all on this human journey together, sharing life on this round ball circling the sun. Sometimes, we walk in darkness. Sometimes, we travel in the light. Wherever we walk on this planet earth, may we step lightly, treating one another with loving kindness, dignity and respect. May we seek first to understand before casting judgement on our companions who like us, sometimes struggle on this journey called life.

And in my heart I say a prayer for both of us.

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

Namaste.