Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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The Poet Boy Remembered

Remembrance Day. Lest we forget. Let us  not forget.

Their sacrifice. Their honour. Their duty to country. Their names.

Let us not forget.

My father went off to war when he was a boy. He went off and fought and came home and seldom spoke of those years again.

The following is the unedited version of a shorter Op-Ed I wrote that was published in the Calgary Herald several years ago. I share it here in memory of my father, and all the sons and daughters, boys and girls, men and women, who have gone off to war to never return. I share it here to remind me to never forget my father who was once a poet boy.  I repost this today lest we forget.

The Poet Boy

by: Louise Gallagher

When the poet boy was sixteen, he lied about his age and ran off to war. It was a war he was too young to understand. Or know why he was fighting. When the guns were silenced and the victors and the vanquished carried off their dead and wounded, the poet boy was gone. In his stead, there stood a man. An angry man. A wounded man. The man who would become my father.

By the time of my arrival, the final note in a quartet of baby-boomer children, the poet boy was deeply buried beneath the burden of an unforgettable war and the dark moods that permeated my father’s being with the density of storm clouds blocking the sun. Occasionally, on a holiday or a walk in the woods, the sun would burst through and signs of the poet boy would seep out from beneath the burden of the past. Sometimes, like letters scrambled in a bowl of alphabet soup that momentarily made sense of a word drifting across the surface, images of the poet boy appeared in a note or a letter my father wrote me. For that one brief moment a light would be cast on what was lost and then suddenly, with the deftness of a croupier sweeping away the dice, the words would disappear as the angry man came sweeping back with the ferocity of winter rushing in from the north.

I spent my lifetime looking for the words that would make the poet boy appear, but time ran out when my father’s heart gave up its fierce beat to the silence of eternity. It was a massive coronary. My mother said he was angry when the pain hit him. Angry, but unafraid. She wasn’t allowed to call an ambulance. She wasn’t allowed to call a neighbor. He drove himself to the hospital and she sat helplessly beside him. As he crossed the threshold of the emergency room, he collapsed, never to awaken again. In his death, he was lost forever, leaving behind my anger for which I had no words.

On Remembrance Day, ten years after his death, I went in search of my father at the foot of the memorial to an unnamed soldier that stands in the middle of a city park. A trumpet played “Taps”. I stood at the edge of the crowd and fingered the felt of the bright red poppy I held between my thumb and fingers. It was a blustery day. A weak November sunshine peaked out from behind sullen grey clouds.  Bundled up against the cold, the crowd, young and old, silently approached the monument and placed their poppies on a ledge beneath the soldier’s feet.

I stood and watched and held back.

I wanted to understand the war. I wanted to find the father who might have been had the poet boy not run off to fight “the good war” as a commentator had called it earlier that morning on the radio. Where is the good in war, I wondered? I thought of soldiers falling, mother’s crying and anger never dying. I thought of the past, never resting, always remembered and I thought of my father, never forgotten. The poet boy who went to war and came home an angry man. In his anger, life became the battlefield upon which he fought to retain some sense of balance amidst the memories of a world gone mad.

Perhaps it is as George Orwell wrote in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-four:

“The very word ‘war’, therefore, has become misleading.  It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist… War is Peace.”

For my father, anger became the peacetime of his world until his heart ran out of time and he lost all hope of finding the poetry within him.

There is still time for me.

On that cold November morning, I approach the monument. I stand at the bottom step and look at the bright red poppies lining the gun metal grey of the concrete base of the statue. Slowly, I take the first step up and then the second. I hesitate then reach forward and place my poppy amongst the blood red row lined up along the ledge.

I wait. I don’t want to leave. I want a sign. I want to know my father sees me.

I turn and watch a white-haired grandfather approach, his gloved right hand encasing the mitten covered hand of his granddaughter. Her bright curly locks tumble from around the edges of her white furry cap. Her pink overcoat is adorned with little white bunnies leaping along the bottom edge. She skips beside him, her smile wide, blue eyes bright.

They approach the monument, climb the few steps and stop beside me. The grandfather lets go of his granddaughter’s hand and steps forward to place his poppy on the ledge.  He stands for a moment, head bowed. The little girl turns to me, the poppy clasped between her pink mittens outstretched in front of her.

“Can you lift me up?” she asks me.

“Of course,” I reply.

I pick her up, facing her towards the statue.

Carefully she places the poppy in the empty spot beside her grandfather’s.

I place her gently back on the ground.

She flashes me a toothy grin and skips away to join her grandfather where he waits at the foot of the monument. She grabs his hand.

“Do you think your daddy will know which one is mine?” she asks.

The grandfather laughs as he leads her back into the gathered throng.

“I’m sure he will,” he replies.

I watch the little girl skip away with her grandfather. The wind gently stirs the poppies lining the ledge. I feel them ripple through my memories of a poet boy who once stood his ground and fell beneath the weight of war.

My father is gone from this world. The dreams he had, the promises of his youth were forever lost on the bloody tide of war that swept the poet boy away.  In his passing, he left behind a love of words born upon the essays and letters he wrote me throughout the years. Words of encouragement. Of admonishment. Words that inspired me. Humored me. Guided me. Touched me. Words that will never fade away.

I stand at the base of the monument and look up at the soldier mounted on its pedestal.  Perhaps he was once a poet boy hurrying off to war to become a man. Perhaps he too came back from war an angry man fearful of letting the memories die lest the gift of his life be forgotten.

I turn away and leave my poppy lying at his feet. I don’t know if my father will know which is mine. I don’t know if poppies grow where he has gone. But standing at the feet of the Unknown Soldier, the wind whispering through the poppies circling him in a blood red river, I feel the roots of the poet boy stir within me. He planted the seed that became my life.

Long ago my father went off to war and became a man. His poetry was silenced but still the poppies blow, row on row. They mark the place where poet boys went off to war and never came home again.

The war is over. In loving memory of my father and those who fought beside him, I let go of anger. It is time for me to make peace.


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Thanksgiving Dinner 2.0

We held our Thanksgiving dinner last night.

C.C. and I were visiting friends in Ontario for Thanksgiving weekend. We had forgotten about our annual dinner until his son text while we were away and said, “What about dinner?”

I am so grateful he did.

It was our first Thanksgiving dinner in our new home.

Most people who know me know that I have a tendency to add people to the dining room table as we go along. This year, because it wasn’t a long weekend and I had to work the next day,  I was committed to keeping the number manageable.

I really was.

And then…. 14 grew to 15 and then 16 and at the last minute a dear friend we thought was going to be away, called to ask, “Is dinner still on?”. He was the best man at our wedding and we both love him dearly. How could we say no?

I love gathering people around the table and watching their faces in the candlelight as they chat with their table neighbours and share stories and opinions on the things that make the world go round!. Last night, there was a lot of talk about legalization of marijuana with my brother-in-law astounding all of us when he said, as we were going around the table and sharing the things we were grateful for, “I’m grateful marijuana is legal. I’m thinking about trying it.”

We all laughed at that one. Especially as he is the last person you’d ever think would say that!

It was an evening of fun and laughter. An evening to share in what makes our lives so rich and fulfilling, the people around us, close to us, dear to us.

This morning, as I sit at the island, typing on my laptop, I am surrounded by reminders of the good times we shared last night. Dirty wine glasses by the sink, the charcuterie board at the far end not yet cleared of crackers and nuts, the bar at the other end still set up.

My glass-topped desk, which normally sits at the front window looking out, is still sitting cross-wise at the end of the second table we’d added to make a table long enough for 16. It is the end piece to the table that was added at the last minute to accomodate our 17th guest.

And the ‘disaster’ of our living/dining room makes me smile.

We built this space to be able to hold dinner parties like this without having to reorganize the whole house (which is what we inevitably had to do in our old home). And while I still wish we could fit in 24 people or more easily (I know. Crazy! but how else can I include all those I love?) I am so grateful for this wonderful space.

I am grateful for the friends and family who make the table such a beautiful, inviting place at which to gather. I am grateful for the food and the spirit they bring to the table. The laughter and heart they share.

I am grateful.

We gathered around the table last night. Family and friends. Laughing and sharing a meal, our thoughts, our hearts. We told stories on ourselves and stories on others. We talked about ‘the times’ and in the end, we all gave thanks for this wonderful country in which we live. Not just because marijuana is now legal across this vast land, but rather, because we are a country where no matter where you come from, or where you are going, everyone is free to sit at a table of their choice and express themselves freely.

 


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I am grateful for those who make it possible to run away from danger

Gratitude fills my heart. It permeates my being creating a sense of peace, contentment, joy.

I am grateful.

We are in Eastern Canada this week vising friends. Autumn leaves are falling, golden, red and bronzed. The lake is calm, its surface mirroring the beauty of the forest lining its shore.

Last night, we sat around a long table decorated with Thanksgiving flare and shared a meal, toasted one another and talked about the things for which we are grateful. The conversation was laden with stories and laughter. It was a communal dinner, everyone bringing something to the table.

It was Thanksgiving at its best.

Five year old Eli shared that he was thankful for Cranberry Sauce. I think he was also very grateful for the laughter his comment evoked.

From friendship to family, good health, travels, wives and husbands, children and grandchildren, we all talked about the people who make our lives rich, vibrant, meaningful.

This year, the gratitude in my heart has grown beyond my comprehension.

This is the first year Thurlow, our 8 month old grandson,  is in our lives. And while we are not sitting at the table with Thurlow and my daughter and son-in-love in our midst I am grateful that he is in our lives and that they have a table around which to sit with family and friends this Thanksgiving on the other side of the country.

Yesterday, as I sat around the candlelit table and watched the faces of our friends as they shared their stories of gratitude and love, I remembered other Thanksgiving dinners, other tables around which I have sat. I felt my heart smile.

This is what makes my life so rich. People I love. Listening to their stories. Hearing of their adventures in the world. Of their family and friends in other places.

At one point my youngest daughter called from my sister’s home in Calgary where they too were sharing a Thanksgiving feast with family and friends. My mother was there, a tiny 96 year old woman who gave this story of my life its roots.

Earlier, I chatted with my eldest daughter in Vancouver. They are now staying with his mother and step-father for awhile. Their next abode uncertain. Last week a fire destroyed the apartment building in which they lived in downtown Vancouver. On Friday evening they learned it was deemed uninhabitable.

Heartbreaking news in a city where the cost of housing is sky-rocketing.

Her confidence and determination, her desire to help those who lost everything in the fire reminded me of the power of our human spirit to endure. To persevere. To overcome hardship.

Aside from some smoke damage, their belongings survived the fire. Others in the building did not.

When it was my turn to share the things for which I am grateful, I talked about my family, friends, loved ones all. But the thing I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving are the First Responders. Those women and men who run into danger as we run away. Those women and men who respond to our need for safety, help, healing.

When my daughter ran out of her building with her son on Thursday morning, she flagged down a police officer driving by. She yelled, “There’s a fire in our building.”

Without hesitation, he stopped his car, jumped out, grabbed her fob for the front door of the building and ran in to ensure people were getting out.

“He didn’t think twice,” my daughter told me.

Within minutes firetrucks were on the scene and firemen and women raced into the building.

I am grateful.

Because of them, 34 of the 44 families in the building did not lose their belongings.

And while it is tragic and hard to think of 10 families with nothing this Thanksgiving, every single person in that building got out safely because of the men and women who raced into the fire to ensure they got out.

I am grateful.

There is so much in my life I take for granted because there are those who safeguard my freedom, my safety, my life.

May I never take for granted my family and friends who make my life so rich, vibrant and meaningful.

And may I always express my gratitude for those who ensure I can take for granted my safety, freedom and peace of mind. May I always be grateful for being able to run away from danger because they are there to protect me.

Namaste.

 


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Pure Love

When she was a  little girl, my eldest daughter loved to play, Wedding. Inevitably, she would be the bride and some erstwhile young playmate would be her groom. In her childhood fantasies, it was always about the dress and ceremony. The marriage was inconsequential.

As she grew into a woman, those memories of her childhood weddings gave us all cause for laughter until this day, two years ago, when she enacted out her wedding day, and we witnessed the beauty and wonder of Alexis and JM joining together in marriage.

That was two years ago today.

This past weekend, Alexis my eldest daughter, has been visiting with their 7 month old son, TJ. We were celebrating my mother’s 96th birthday, which in and of itself was perfect. To have four generations together. To be together as a family — both my sisters, and both my daughters and the son Alexis and her beautiful husband have brought into this world.

What could be more perfect?

Someone once said, ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words’.  In the English language there is only one word for Love. The Greeks were smart. They had at least four.

And even that doesn’t seem to be enough to describe how my heart feels.

I am beyond words. Beyond emotions. Beyond anything but Love.

Not just for having spent time with my grandson, but also for being witness to the wonder of my eldest daughter as she embraces and embodies the role of ‘mother’.

I am in awe. I am humbled. I am grateful.

She is all that I would have wanted for my grandson. And so much more.  She is pure Love.


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Time to kick-back.

It is a long weekend.

We’ve had fun times sharing dinner with friends and family. Cooking together. Chatting. Teasing. Deep conversation and light-hearted laughter.

These are rich times. Treasured moments of companionship. Time for C.C. and I to slice and peel and cook together and share in something we love to spend time creating — special moments for family and friends.

We’ve gathered old friends, new friends, new neighbours around the table. Savoured time to get to know eachother. Time to share our stories. Our thoughts. Our feelings.

And now today. Monday… A day to relax. To rest on the deck. To feel the sun warming my skin. To hear the leaves rustling in the trees and listen to the river flowing past.

It is a day with no commitments. No ‘to do list’ calling. Though the list exists, today I shall turn my back on ‘have to’s’ and shoulds as I savour this moment to simply be present in the beauty all around me.

Ahh yes. The dog days of summer are upon us.

Time to relax. Time to savour gratitude for this day.


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Happy Canada Day!

This is a repost of last year’s poem I wrote for Canada Day.

 

Happy Canada Day to all of us who have the privilege of calling Canada our home.


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The magic of living life fearlessly.

photo by @brit_gill

photo by @brit_gill

From her first cry to her first smile to her first song, life with Alexis is always an adventure. Over the past 32 years, I have borne witness to the magic and miracle of her voice growing stronger. I have watched her move through toddler stage to little girl, to adolescent, teenager, young woman and now, a mother.

And always, she has enchanted and enthralled. She has been real and fierce and loving and brave.

Today is my eldest daughter’s birthday.

I remember this day 32 years ago. It was much like today promises to be. Bright and sunny. Blue sky soaring into infinity.

Life looked predictable. Like it would always be blue sky and sunny days.

And then Alexis came into this world. She arrived on her terms, on her schedule. We had been anticipating her arrival at the end of May. That day had passed. Alexis wasn’t ready to meet the world yet. Or perhaps, the world wasn’t ready to meet her?

In the end, Alexis Marie erupted onto life’s stage 23 days past her original due date. As I lay on an operating table and the doctor cut into my abdomen, I heard her cries from within my womb and my heart melted. I could feel it. That instantaneous giving way of the boundaries that held all known feeling in place. A letting go of all restraint, an abandoning of life as I knew it as this tiny, precious, perfect being was lifted from the safety of my womb and exposed to the world.

I wanted to keep her close. To keep her tied to the umbilical safety of my being the vessel that embraced her every breath.

And I had to let her go. I had to allow the cord to be cut to give her wings room to grow.

They have been growing ever since.

There is so much in this world I do not know. So much about life and living and loving fearlessly I have yet to explore.

Before I became a mother, I thought I knew it all. I thought I had life figured out and that once I did become a mother, it would be a pretty clearcut, straight forward journey of raising them and setting them on their path with the prerequisite education, tools and hope chest filled with all they needed to live adult lives in an adult world.

Being a mother has taught me how little I knew then about Love, and how much I don’t need to know now about anything else because, in Love’s light, everything else pales.

Alexis is a woman and a mother now. Beautiful. Talented. Creative. Kind. Caring. Loving. I watch her with her infant son and my heart melts all over again.

She sings to him, and I hear angels’ voices.

She dances with him and I see a fairy queen, ethereal, regal, magical.

She paints and writes and creates beauty and wonder in the world all around and I know her son’s life will be filled with magic and beauty, wonder and awe.

She is sensitive and gentle. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely proud. Sometimes, she doubts her own strength, questions her capacity to be courageous. No matter her self-doubts, always she finds her way through because of her heart’s capacity to beat to its own drum, march to its own beat, love in its own rhythm.

Always, she watches out for others. Sees the beauty in every soul, the wonder in every breath. She hears the words that are left unspoken, and feels the pain that is left unhealed and knows exactly how to reach out and soothe another’s fears, another’s tears, another’s sadness.

photo by @brit_gill

She is intuitive. She is whimsical. She is miraculous, just as she always has been. Just as she always will be.

She is a woman, a mother, a daughter, a grand-daughter, a step-daughter, a sister, a step-sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend. She is so many things and has so many ways of being amazing because she is Alexis.

Happy Birthday my darling daughter. Though the miles may lay between us, you are my heart. Forever and always.