As I approach that space where leaving the formal workplace opens up upon the horizon, I come back to the question that sparked the creation of this blog six years ago.
Originally called, A Year of Making a Difference, this blog was my space to dive into the question, “Who am I when I don’t have a job that makes it easy for me to feel like I’m making a difference every day?”
At the time I had just resigned from my role as Director Public Relations and Volunteer Services at a large adult-single homeless shelter. I’d been there for six years. It was work that inspired me and filled my heart. I loved the place and people but the politics combined with my lack of enthusiasm for the values and direction of the leadership provided the impetus to make the decision to leave.
I was scared.
Everyday I walked into that place and knew, I was making a difference.
Without my title, position, profile in community, who was I? Would I have value?
Six years ago, I wrestled with the question of how to make a difference just by being present in this world. It was a year long adventure of finding value in all things, and acknowledging ‘my connection to you and your connection to me’ creates a world of difference’ — the kind of difference we make is dependent upon our intention, our willingness to be present, no matter the circumstances, with loving-kindness in our hearts and harmony in our being.
At the end of the first year of writing in this space, I changed its name to Dare Boldly; a reminder to myself to always take the bold step, no matter my fear, trepidation or insecurities.
Daring boldly isn’t easy. I want to play it safe. Stay the course. Not make waves. Keep on keeping on.
Daring boldly isn’t hard either. It just requires the courage of knowing what I want create in this world, and then, taking action to create it.
For me, creating a world of harmony, a world where we dance, laugh, play and create without fearing one another is a ‘BHAG’.
According to its originator, Jim Collins, a BHAG (pronounced Bee-Hag), is a powerful way to stimulate progress.
Which got me to thinkin’ and a’wonderin’ — I get that organizations can have Bee-Hags, but individuals?
Life itself is a journey of progressing moment to moment, each moment building upon the last, each moment informing the next. When I seek value in all things, every moment is filled with opportunity to create better.
Life is a BHAG! I don’t have to stimulate progress. Progress is inevitable.
Knowing and naming my personal BHAG within life’s big hairy audacious presence and taking action on progressing towards a goal, or perhaps an idea, or ideal way of being in this world, big, hairy and audacious, or not, is necessary for me to feel engaged, vital and content in my life.
Six years ago, I started this blog with the idea of creating a space where, every day, I sought difference making in our world.
Today, as I begin to contemplate ‘life after formal work’, there is little difference in my focus. No matter what I do, I want to be conscious of, and engaged in, difference-making.
Yes, I know that just being present on this earth makes a difference.
Yes, I know that one person cannot change the world (but it sure is good if each of us tries because that adds up to a whole lot of people trying to make the world a better place. In our collective efforts we create a tsunami of better!)
And yes, I know that my job is not so much to change THE world, it’s to create a world of difference in MY world.
Ultimately, to feel content, to feel engaged in and activated by life, my job is to change my world so that no matter what I do, the difference I make is one of creating more harmony, more joy, more love. And more opportunities to dance, laugh, play and create.
Many years ago, while I was immersed in a relationship that was killing me, I didn’t write. It was one of the many signs I ignored on that road to hell that was telling me, “You are not safe here! Run for your life!”
Ignoring the signs of my ill-being was easier if I didn’t write. Not acknowledging how sick I was becoming was vital to keeping his anger and abuse at bay.
I didn’t want to face his anger. I also didn’t want to face myself on the page.
Writing for me is about truth. The truth is those days was that I was lost, abused, terrified. I didn’t believe I had value. I didn’t believe I deserved to live.
There was no grace in that place. There was no grace to write.
One of the graces of writing is its capacity to awaken me to the story beneath the story.
On the weekend, I created a writing corner just for me. It’s beside a window that overlooks the river’s edge. I can sit and watch the water flow, hear its voice, feel its essence, be one with nature.
There is something very symbolic about my writing space, something I hadn’t connected until I started writing about writing (and not writing) this morning.
On the morning of May 21, 2003 when I was released from the hell of that relationship, we were staying at a small bed and breakfast beside a river. It wasn’t as wide or fast moving or as deep as The Bow. It gurgled through the property, laughing in the sun as it raced to the sea.
Every morning I would stand by the river’s edge and imagine I could unhook gravity’s hold on my body so that by its own volition, it would fall into the water and be washed out to sea. In its disappearance, all memory of my having been here on earth would be erased from my daughters’ minds and they would be able to continue on with their lives, free of any memory of the mother who had loved them so, and then disappeared.
See, I couldn’t take my own life. That would have made a lie of the one truth I held onto — I love my daughters. Everything else in my life had become a lie. I could not violate that one truth.
But if I could unhook gravity…
I sit by the river this morning, writing.
I no longer want to unhook gravity’s hold.
I no longer live ‘the lie’.
I am blessed.
This is courage. This is strength. This is a woman’s story of survival and victory. An amazing story told by an amazing woman.
I am driving in my car when I hear Anna Maria Tremonti, of CBC’s ‘The Current’, interviewing Grace Acan, a woman who was abducted as a schoolgirl by Ugandan rebels and now helps other casualties of war reclaim their lives.
Tremonti is gentle in her questioning. Careful to allow Grace Acan space to respond. Or not.
I hear the strength, courage, heart in Grace Acan’s voice and find tears pooling along the bottom of my eyelids.
“I learned to do everything — however hard it was — in order to survive,” Acan says. She was was 14 when fighters for the Lord’s Resistance Army came to her school’s dormitory in the dead of night and abducted 139 girls. 30 would be released. Grace would spend the next 8 years doing whatever it took to survive.
It was all about living. And when her captivity ended with her escape nearly 8 years later, she kept on living. Kept on pushing through her pain and sorrow and fear because, she tells Tremonti, she had to survive, ‘for the family she had left behind and the children she bore while in captivity’.
And my mind travels back to a time when I was released from a relationship that was killing me many years ago. By the end of that 4 year 9 month journey I was emotionally dead. The physicality of my being present here on earth was more of an inconvenience, an annoyance that I knew he would deal with in his own time. That time was getting closer as I had given up on me and fallen into the belief I was powerless over him. I was waiting to die.
And so I waited.
And then, a blue and white police car drove up and two officers got out and arrested the man who had promised to love me until death do us part — as long as he had control of the death part.
I was broke, broken and lost. But I was alive.
What a gift life was!
I remember in those first heady weeks and months of freedom, whenever someone asked me, “How are you?” I’d immediately respond, “I’m alive!” They’d often look at me, surprised, especially if they were a stranger or someone who didn’t know me well. I’d see their confused look and say, “Seriously. Isn’t being alive amazing!”
Most would smile (nervously) and agree and walk on. And I would keep smile and keep walking, one foot in front of the other, as I worked to restore my sense of well-being, my sense of self, of who I am when I’m not carrying the label, “Abused Woman”.
Recovery is a journey. Of hope. Belief. Trust. Love. It is a two steps forward, one back and three forward again. It is a spherical path leading ever further and higher away from the darkness into the light of knowing — Life is a precious gift. Use it wisely. Use it serve others. To create better in this world. To bring light and joy into whatever space you can. Life is precious. Treasure it.
This May 21st marks 15 years since that morning when I got the gift of my life back. I don’t think of those days often. Yet, when I hear a woman like Grace Acan speak, memory tugs and I am reminded once again how blessed I am, how fortunate, how lucky.
I survived that journey. I have rebuilt my life, reclaimed myself, healed and deepened my relationship with my daughters. They were my unseen angels throughout those dark months at the end where I was lost and didn’t believe I had the right to live. It was because of them I never took my own life. It is because of them, I live my life today, passionately in love, honouring the gift of my life fearlessly, totally In Love.
Thank you Grace Acan for having the courage to share your story. Your voice reminds me of the power of my voice and makes me once again breathe deeply into the beauty and wonder of freedom and the gift of being able to joyfully exclaim for all the world to hear, “I am Alive!”
What a gift!
I arrive home. Let Beaumont the Sheepadoodle out into the backyard. Go through the house to the front door. Open it. Check the mail.
This is my daily after work routine.
Yesterday, when I put my hand inside the mailbox, I found a surprise.
A bag of heart-shaped dog biscuits and a card. “Merry Christmas” was all that was written on the outside.
Curious, I take it into the house, let Beau in as he’s now barking for attention at the back door, and open the card.
It is from a neighbour I’ve never met on a street a few blocks over.
“Just wanted to say hello and send a little treat for your best friend that I see in the window — he/she makes my day when I drive by. Happy New Year! All the best in your move.”
I smile with delight. Give Beau, who has been eagerly pressing his nose against the edge of the counter-top, desperately trying to get a sniff of whatever goodies are in the bag, a treat.
And in that moment I am reminded of the sheer beauty and magnificence of my fellow human-beings. I am reminded that we are all connected. All part of this one big human condition where we all have the capacity to see the wonder and awe in all things — even in the simple act of driving by a house where a dog sits on the couch positioned in the front window, head over the back watching the world drive by.
And we all have the capacity to connect through simple acts of kindness.
An older man and woman are standing in the parking lot, just next to my car when I come out of the grocery store. I hear a dog barking and the woman say, “What should we do? It’s so hot out and the car is all locked up.”
“Is there a dog locked in a car?” I ask as I stop beside them. I’m thinking that is where the barking is coming from.
“Not a dog,” the woman responds, pointing to a red car parked next to the empty stall in which they’re standing. “A senior.”
And I look at the car she’s pointed to and see an older man, head resting on his chest, sitting by himself in a closed up car.
“Is the engine running?” I ask.
“No,” she replies. “And it’s so hot.”
“Why don’t I knock on the window and make sure he’s okay,” I suggest, walking towards the car.
The other man who was standing beside her walks away. He doesn’t want to get involved or perhaps he just thinks the situation is taken care of, no need for him.
The woman is nervous. “Do you think you should?” she asks. She holds up a piece of paper. “I have the license plate number. I can go into the store and have them call out for the owner.”
“That may take too long,” I reply. “It is really hot and he’s very still.”
I rap on the window.
The man doesn’t awaken at first. I rap again, thinking about how I’m going to have to break the window if he doesn’t stir.
He opens his eyes. Lifts his head. Slowly.
“Are you okay?” I ask him through the closed windows. I can see the keys in the ignition, but the car is not running.
He opens the door slightly. The woman hovers beside me.
“We were worried about you,” I tell the man through the open crack of the door. “It’s really hot out and we wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I like the heat,” he replies.
“Oh. Okay. Well perhaps you may want to open your window a little bit so others don’t think you might be in distress,” I tell him with a smile.
He nods his head and closes the door.
The woman and I walk away towards our cars.
“Thank you for your help,” she says. She is hesitant. Shakes her head. Raises her shoulders. “I didn’t know what to do.”
“It is good that you noticed him,” I told her. “It’s much too hot to sit in a locked car with the windows up, even if you do like the heat.”
She smiles. Gets in her car next to mine.
I load my groceries into my car, look back at the man. He has opened his window a bit.
I am relieved.
It is much too hot to sit in a locked up car exposed to the full heat of the sun with all the windows closed.
The dog is still barking where he is leashed up to a pole near the grocery store doors.
I hope the owner comes out soon ’cause baby, it’s a scorcher.
Years ago, I saw a young woman sitting in a coffee shop by herself, crying. I did nothing.
I have learned that doing nothing is not the answer. This was for her and all the others I have walked by or not noticed who needed help or just someone to care enough to make sure they were okay.
When I arrive at the restaurant where I am meeting a girlfriend for dinner, billowy clouds are gathering on the horizon, piling up in black and ominous force at the foot of the Rockies in the west. Above me, the sun is shining, the sky is mostly blue and we picked this restaurant so we could sit outside on the patio.
I find a table under a summery umbrella and when my girlfriend arrives, we settle in for a long overdue visit.
And then, the clouds march closer, the sky darkens.
It’s not going to rain, we say.
And then, thunder rolls in threatening booms across the sky.
It’s not going to rain, we repeat.
And then, the sky gets darker yet, the wind picks up. There are still several other diners outside but we decide to move in, no sense battling the wind while trying to enjoy our dinner.
We move inside to a table by the window, “It’s almost like being outside”, the manager, Frank, says as he seats us.
We laugh and continue on with our conversation.
Outside, people continue to brave the elements, until, the skies open up and rain and hail pelt the ground. They all race inside. Frank the manager and his staff race around closing up umbrellas, tipping up the chairs.
It pours. And it pours. Sheets of water streaming from the sky.
And we keep talking, catching up, sharing news of daughters and men and happenings in our lives and the rain keeps pouring down.
It’s then that Frank, the manager, pulls out his hero card. A couple of guests are waiting inside the front doors hoping for a break in the downpour so they can race to their cars.
Frank, runs outside to the patio, grabs a big festive patio umbrella, pushes it open and walks the guests to their cars. He does it, again and again.
Now that’s service. That’s a commitment to ensuring the guest experience is memorable.
We didn’t need Frank’s assistance when we left. The rain had stopped and the sun had returned to the sky. But, I kind of wished it was still raining. I kind of wished I could have been walked to my car by a pleasant young man who takes customer service so seriously.
Thank you Frank the manager at the Phoenix Grill in Westhills. You made a difference to a lot of people last night.
And, you made me smile.
This post originally appeared on my blog, Aug 1, 2012. I decided to do a retro piece this morning and was grateful for the reminder of Frank’s gallantry. It also just happens that it poured rain last night, and while I was warm and dry at home, I hope the Frank’s and Frankie’s of the world were out there holding umbrellas for strangers.
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