From where I sit face lit with the glow of my laptop screen my fingers gliding across the keyboard the soft chanting of Advent songs playing in the background the steady welcoming hum of the furnace protecting me from the cold lights flickering as cars cross the bridge carrying people into their day misty air rising from the river flowing sluggishly between ice-clad banks naked trees standing tall along its edges stretched out branches frozen into awkward shapes like children frozen in a game of Freeze Tag on a hot summer’s day. sun kissed clouds stretch out above the tree tops. river mist rises in ethereal white wisps gracefully flowing like a river through the air This is the beauty of my morning. This is the world that surrounds me. This is my morning light moving from darkness into day. I watch the lights flicker, the river valiantly fight against becoming ice hear the music full of voices chanting and violins humming feel the warm air wafting from the furnace beneath my desk from where I sit in awe of the sun lightening the dark surrounding nature’s delicate frozen dance as I sit breathing in nature's bounty soaking all my senses full of its breath-taking beauty This day is soaked in wonder, awe and magic. Let it flow. .
Joyfully, we gathered around the Christmas tree. We hung decorations. Teased one another. Laughed and shared memories of Christmases past and hopes and dreams of Christmases to come.
This morning, I walked into the living room, switched on the tree lights, made myself my seasonal eggnog latte indulgence, sat at my desk, and watched early morning traffic cross the bridge. It is sparse at this early hour. Car lights moving west to east, crossing over the river that flows in an indolent stream of shimmering waters growing ever slower as Arctic air swoops down to envelope us in its icy maw.
Baby it’s cold outside.
Inside, my world is wrapped in the scents and scenes of Christmas á la 2022.
Like pocketbooks all over the country, my yearning to decorate the house is thinner this year. Perhaps the austerities of the pandemic have invaded my senses.
The big [;astoc tubs full of boughs and decorations lay unopened. Some of them didn’t even make it up from the storage room downstairs.
The tree stands tall in all her glittering light, festooned with glass balls and ornaments, delicate butterflies and feathered friends.
I wonder if this simple yet beautiful display is enough.
If maybe this year, it’s time to pare down the excess of Christmases past and cull the bountiful stash of Christmas ornaments I’ve accumulated over the years.
Perhaps, in keeping with the austerity these inflationary times seem to naturally have ignited in so many, it’s time to declutter Christmas.
I sit at my desk and watch the river slowly shifting-shape from flow to frozen shape. The reflection of the Christmas tree lights shimmer in the window in front of me. Darkness holds the night still.
Long before Christianity appeared along the human journey, people gathered around evergreen trees to celebrate Solstice. For our ancestors, the evergreen and its constant colour, needs and scent, represented the promise of longer, warmer days to come.
In our gathering last night, we decorated the tree connected through time to this ancient symbol of the light regaining its strength over the dark.
In our gathering, our laughter, our shared history and love, we wove the magic of time and this season together into a beautiful tapestry full of the promise of Love. Hope. Peace and Joy.
Ah yes. This is Christmas.
We are on the edge of a winter blast descending. Just in time for Christmas!
Except, the promise is that by Christmas day, it will turn less frigid but not balmy.
It is the winter season here at the foot of the Canadian Rockies. Temperatures climb and plummet. Climb and plummet. And we adapt. And even in our adaptations we accept, grumbling is acceptable. Grumbling can be the norm.
Skies hang grey and sullen, clouding the sun like a teenager sulking in their room after being grounded.
Ice is slowly inching out from the river’s banks and gravel bars closing the gaps between land and water.
And the world waits.
My Saturday mood is full of anticipation. We are putting up the tree and decorating tomorrow evening. My youngest daughter, hopefully C.C.’s son and girlfriend and maybe even my sister and her husband will join in the festivities.
For me, this is Christmas. It’s not about the gifts. It’s about. gathering with those near and dear to us, creating memories, sharing meals and laughter and being part of something magical that embraces us in its beauty and joy.
In this Saturday morning mood, the muse visited and I heeded her call…
Still By Louise Gallagher ©2022 Almost still water shivers held captive between a season of bounty losing its strength against winter ice lined up like an army ready to advance across the river’s flow captured by winter advancing with its relentless Arctic breath. Behind front doors strung with festive boughs and twinkling lights we wait still hopeful the light will return to winter burnished skies held captive within the longest night’s journey turning back towards the light. In the depths of long dark night of winter someone whispers a child is coming and the world holds still its collective breath captive in the hope this child will bring love, peace and joy for all the world to know winter passes, spring thaws, and summer blossoms turn with the season’s passing into autumn’s bounty.
There was a time when Terry drove a semi back and forth across America, delivering livestock to rodeos and ranches across Canada and the US.
He loved his life. The freedom of the road. The camaraderie of truckers. The unstructured life.
For years, he didn’t need one place to call home. He had the wide-open road.
And then, life caught up with him. A gambling addiction. Alcohol. His body wearing down sooner than expected. No life-savings.
He ended up at a homeless shelter.
But even there, Terry didn’t succumb to the ennui of that place called ‘homeless’. He volunteered every day. His favourite role was carrying people up and down the elevators. He loved having that swipe pass. He liked the status and the opportunity to greet clients and visitors on every ride.
“I’m driving them where they need to go!” he’d joke.
Terry joked a lot. “Life is so bizarre you gotta laugh,” he’d say.
About once a week he’d ask me to marry him and then rescind the offer. “I don’t want to have to fight C.Cl” he’d joke.
Terry was small in stature. Big in heart and attitude.
When a cancer diagnosis befell him, he swore he was not going down without a fight.
He fought hard, but within months it was obvious, even to Terry, that the cancer was winning.
It was a few weeks before Christmas and Terry was failing fast. He decided to take one more kick at the can and for his Wishlist ask that year, he told the young woman interviewing him that all he really wanted before he died was to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I’ve driven through that city countless times with my semi but never during Mardi Gras.
The young woman who was interviewing him for the Wishlist (an annual event sponsored by an amazing couple Dan and Jenny) had met Terry many times volunteering at the shelter.
She decided she was going to make his wish come true.
Terry’s health failed to fast for him to go, but here’s where the miracle of this season takes center stage.
One of the media outlets who came to support Terry’s wish was the Calgary Herald. The reporter was so moved by Terry’s story, he wrote a full page spread.
That article was read by a woman in Calgary who happened to know one of Terry’s brothers who lived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Terry’s brother had been looking for him since he’d run away from home at the tender age of eight years old and was picked up by social services.
When his brother read the story, he showed his wife who promptly went on line, found the number for the shelter and called me.
I was there the day Terry and his brother were reunited.
It was one of the most beautiful moments I ever experienced.
And though Terry never did get to Mardi Gras, before he passed we held a party in his honour at a Cajun bar in town. Over 100 people turned up to wish him well.
“I don’t deserve all of this,” Terry insisted.
“You deserve so much more,” was the response from pretty well everyone there.
See, when Terry was first diagnosed he insisted he did not want to die anywhere than at the shelter.
I don’t want to be in a strange place surrounded by strangers he insisted.
We did everything we could to ensure he was comfortable, safe and well cared for. But in the end, hospice was the only answer.
I drove him to the hospice the day he moved in. His brother met us there and spent the next two weeks with him.
And the most miraculous part of it all is that when Terry took his last breath, he wasn’t amongst strangers. His brother was sitting at the side of his bed, holding his hand.
When I worked in an adult emergency homeless shelter, amidst the joy and laughter, the lights and decorations that adorn this time of year in the rosy glow of family gatherings and festive delights, the air was also filled with the sadness of loneliness and the heavy despair of homelessness.
For those without a place to call home, finding joy always came shrouded in the memories of joy lost, connections broken, family circles torn apart by poverty, addiction, violence and loss.
One year, we invited clients to share holiday messages to post on our website. I was always in awe of how excited those who participated were to have a chance to reach out to family and friends and let them know they were thinking of them and wishing them well.
One of those individuals was Zahir. His nickname was ‘Happy’ because he could always be counted on to lighten even the darkest moments with his laughter.
Zahir was diagnosed with a mental illness when his daughter was three. He was exiled from the family home and his community and began a long journey through homelessness.
He was in his 50s when we did a video story with Zahir one Christmas. We wanted to show the human side of homelessness. To help those who had never experienced it or judged the shelter and those experiencing homelessness, find compassion and understanding for those who used the shelter as their respite.
This video had an even more important purpose which would only be revealed several months later when I received a letter from a woman who had never given up searching for the father she’d lost when she was 3 years old.
As a child, she’d been forbidden from seeing or searching for, her father. As an adult, she made it her mission to find him. One of the things she did constantly, was search the websites of emergency shelters across Canada in the hopes of finding him. In her letter, she told me it was a miracle she stumbled across our video. She had started to give up hope of ever finding her father.
Zahir and his by-then 30-something daughter were reunited. At that reunion, Zahir got to meet his 2-year-old granddaughter and learned that he would be a grandfather again later that same year.
Zahir, despite his daughter’s requests he come live with them in another city, would not leave the shelter. It was the world he knew. And, though he never met his second grandchild, when Zahir passed away later that year, he was a very happy man. He had met the daughter he’d never lost hope of one day seeing again.
In the darkness of homelessness, Zahir held onto hope and loving-kindness.
May we all do the same.
This is the video that sparked the miracle of Zahir and his daughter’s reunion.
It is easy when I’m with my grandchildren to feel my heart breaking open wider and wider with each magical whisper of their voices, each lyrical laugh, each wide-eyed gaze they make.
Away from them, immersed in the mundane of daily living, I can sometimes forget that magic, wonder and awe are as present as the normal everyday things that fill my life.
It is in those moments of mundanity that I must pause, close my eyes, breathe and become present within the moment, present to the world around me, present with all that is within the moment.
All of it. The mundane. The exquisite. The superficial. The profound. All of it.
And when I do become present within it all, I awaken within the beauty and Love that is flowing constantly all around.
It is easy to forget. So much better to remember.
Bundled up against the chill of this December 21st morning, Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I head out for our early morning walk beneath the glow of the full moon waning.
It is still quiet at this early hour. A few cars. No pedestrians. Upriver, unseen, I hear geese squawking and chattering where they huddle on an ice island stretched out along a gravel bar close to the river’s edge.
It is in these early morning walks, my boots crunching on the snow, my breath forming an ethereal misty cloud in the air around me, that I feel the unfathomable mysteries of life moving deeply through and within me, connecting me to the wonder and awe of it all.
It is here I feel wholly immersed within the joyful embodiment of this precious moment full of life’s delicate, mystical enchantment.
It is here I feel one within the presence of the sacred nature of all of life.
It is here I awaken.
On Sunday evening I joined in a Solstice celebration in the enchanted forest of Kerry Parson’s magical backyard haven.
We stood around a fire and bid farewell to the things that no longer serve us and welcomed-in the light.
The word for 2022 that arrived for me from the depths of the fire within was Transformation.
I am enthralled. Excited. Beguiled by its possibilities.
I took a bite of memory yesterday. It slid across my lips and landed on my tongue full of tantalizing reminders of Christmases past.
It took me back. Back to my early teens. We are living in a white house with a big Chestnut tree in the middle of the front driveway. The deck overlooked the garden and then the city below. The drive backed onto a hillside that took you up into the vineyards that dotted the edges of the Black Forest town in which we lived.
Inside, the house is full of the smells and sounds of Christmas. My father is baking in the kitchen. Christmas music playing. Loud.
My sister, Anne, and I are squabbling over whose turn it is to vacuum and whose turn to clean the bathroom.
My mother is fluttering around, trying to keep dad’s dishes to a minimum and desperately trying to admonish Anne and I to ‘quit fighting’ and get to work.
My brother is wafting in and out from his room. Like a prince holding court, he stands (forever) in front of the full-length mirror in the front hallway trying to determine between blue shirt, white shirt or maybe a sweater? In the middle of turning this way and that, he asks Anne and me what we think of what ever he is wearing.
We roll our eyes and say, in unison, “Whichever”, and pretend to go back to doing our jobs.
It was our way, we’d placate our brother and then whine together, like co-conspirators in a bad spy movie, about how he always got to go out and do whatever he wanted while we had to do all the work around the house. Sometimes, if we got the tone and attitude just right, he’d think we were talking about him and pester us with questions. “What’d you say?” “What? You think I should go with the sweater?” “There’s nothing wrong with my hair today, right?” We’d tell him we weren’t even talking about him and scurry off to get our jobs done so we could go meet our friends.
If high-fives had been a ‘thing’ in those days we’d have worn our palms out.
And through it all, my father would be bustling around the kitchen, elbow deep in flour and sugar and everything nice to make one of his many baked Christmas delicacies.
Yesterday, I took a bite of a piece of Stollen. I’d picked it up that morning fresh from the bakers and was transported back to those days long ago..
My father’s Stollen were home baked. It was his way. The kitchen was his domain during the holidays. And while deliciousness was his ethic, excess was his trademark.
In later years, when I was living in Canada and my parents had not yet moved back from Europe, my dad would parcel up a huge box of Christmas goodies and have them delivered by airmail to my front door.
That box came full of his loving hands spicing up every bite and, my mother’s hands too. Because, while the production of so many culinary delights was my dad’s purview, making it all look pretty was my mother’s gift. She shared it well.
Butter tarts. Tins of many different cookies. Pound cakes. Christmas cake. All wrapped up in crinkly bows. Pretty, sparkly papers around each cake. Cheery tins of laughing Santas and elves and trees all dressed up in Christmas finery. It was a gastronomic and pictorial odyssey.
There was something for everyone in that box. Chocolates for my daughters. A treat for the dog. And always, wrapped in a piece of cheese cloth covered with wax paper, tin foil and red wrapping paper, there was a Stollen. Waiting to be devoured.
I took a bite of memory yesterday.
It tasted good in my heart.
I sit in the still darkness of early morning. The silence holds me tenderly in its velvety weightlessness.
Hold onto nothing, it seems to whisper. Allow everything in.
I breathe out and let everything go. Everything rushes in.
I breathe in and hold onto nothing. Everything rushes out.
You are the ocean, the velvety silence whispers. You are the sky. The moon and stardust. You are the everything of nothing but Love. There is no need to run or hide or jump up and down for attention. There is no need to yearn or hammer your fists against the universe and sink down into a puddle of weeping sorrow. No need to search for answers or meaning. There is only this nothingness of everything you are when you hold onto nothing and let everything in.
I breathe. In. Again.
Deep. Deep into my belly.
I feel. Deep. Deep in my belly the everything of nothing I hold onto.
I breathe. Out. Again.
Deep. Deep from my belly.
I feel. Deep into the space around me, deep into the darkness of this still silent morning the nothingness of everything I let go of.
And I know without knowing. I feel without feeling. Deep. Deep within my being. Deep in the presence of this moment, that this is the nothing and the everything of all I am. All I can be. All I need. All I want and desire. All of everything I let go of. All of everything I let in.
This is the everything of nothing but what remains when I hold onto nothing.
Breathing deep, I sat in the still darkness of morning.
And that’s where Love found me.
“My Morning Read”
This morning, as part of my commitment to read a poem every morning, I read Mark Nepo’s, Where is God
And this is what appeared.
Solstice is upon us and with it, I feel the calling of the muse to write my way into the light.
To stretch myself, to tease my poetic senses into verse, to give my mind an opportunity to lean into the unknown, beyond those spaces where my thinking has crystallized into certainty that I have it all figured out… I have begun a practice of reading a poem a morning – and then – letting whatever that poem inspires come into being through word and image.
This piece conspired itself into being after reading, WINTER APPLE From Pilgrim: Poems by David Whyte.
This is Day 2.
Some days I’ll share here. Some I won’t. We’ll see what the adventure brings!
There Is Nowhere Love Will Not Go ©2020 Louise Gallagher Let this longest night fall effortlessly into dawn breaking open the sky bereft of winter’s days trapped inside with only the sheltering bones of this abode where you have held yourself sequestered to keep you safe. Let this solitude play effortlessly the strings of your heart straining to not break under the weight of isolation and worry that no matter the distance between two hearts love will not be enough to keep you safe. Let this Solstice awaken effortlessly your faith in Love’s authority to illuminate even the darkest night with its power to break open the dawn light returning to your heart on this darkest morning of the year. And in that breaking open may you remember always there is nowhere Love will not go to keep you safe.