Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Gail the bartender and #StrazStrong – one person’s difference-making

Her name is Gail. She’s the bartender at the Cork and Well situated near Gate 19 at Toronto Pearson Airport.

She loves her job.

It shows..

It’s the guy sitting next to me who asks the question that really makes her character shine.

“So what’s with the 3 hats beside the TV?” he asks, pointing to 3 ball caps lying on a small wooden ledge above the bar, beside the TV.

She smiles as she passes him his beer and says, “There’s a real story behind each one,” she teases and goes off to serve another customer.

When she comes back she says to the man who asked the question, “So, you want the story?”

“Can I guess first?” I ask.

“Sure,” she replies. “But you won’t get it right.”

Game on.

She’s right.

I don’t get it right.

Turns out, players from each team did not give her the caps. She bought each one.

She points to the Maple Leaf’s ball cap, the one on the outer left of the three. “Well, how could I not have this one?” she asks us. “This is their city. It’s only right.”

She points to the Boston Bruins cap on the far right. “The Bruins are my team,” she says. “They’re my screen saver on my phone. I gotta have their cap on my ledge.”

And then she carefully picks up the black middle cap with a yellow No. 10 above the peak.

“This one is special,” she says. And she puts it on backwards to show the hashtag sewn in yellow thread on the band across the back. #StrazStrong

“Ahh,” I say nodding my head. “Humboldt. Nice.”

The guy beside me nods his head too. “Nice.”

Gail places her hands on either side of the cap and adjusts it just right.

“The day after it happened, I put out a sign on my counter and told people that every tip I got that day was going to help the survivors and the families.

She earned over $500, all of which she sent along.

Since then, she’s done various different things to support the StrazFoundation, including buy only green and yellow napkins for the bar, use only green pens, tell people the story, and write condolence cards to the 16 families who lost their loved ones.

She’s even asked celebrities such as Canadian football legend John Hufnagle who happened to sit at the bar one day and ask a similar question about the hats.

She’s got 16 different celebrities to sign and has been in touch with the Humboldt Bronco’s team administrator to get the cards sent out.

She tells us all this, and more, about her admiration and support of the team in between serving customers who pop in and out of the bar. Our connecting flight to Ottawa has been delayed. We’ve got time.

As I’m getting ready to leave, Gail is standing on the far side of the bar, talking to another staff member. I wave and call out a thank you. She calls me over and tells me excitedly, “I’ve got one more story I gotta share.”

Excitedly, she talks about her friend who is 76 and not well. “She’s got breast cancer and just had a mastectomy, She’s not in great shape but she’s feisty so I like to help her as much as I can so she doesn’t do too much.”

One day while she was over visiting her friend, she hears her call her from the bedroom. Come quick. She rushed into the bedroom and somehow her friend has fallen and wedged herself between the dresser and her bed.

“I can’t really get to her and pull her out without causing her pain,” Gail says. I’m panicking. Don’t know what to do. She’s crying. Can’t get up. I gotta do something.”

That’s when she remembers her hero, Ryan Straschnitzki, one of 13 survivors from the crash that took 16 young lives.

“I ask myself, ‘what would Ryan do?’ and then I remember what he’s been learning and practicing. Crawling.”

She tells her friend to roll onto her hands and knees and start crawling.

It worked.

At this point we’ve both got tears in our eyes and I have to go.

“Thank you for sharing your stories. You’re very inspiring,” I tell her.

“Thanks for listening.”

She smiles, open her arms and says, “we gotta hug.”

And so we do. Two virtual strangers standing heart to heart in the memory of #StrazStrong.

Namaste.


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What’s your mark?

While waiting for a woman to join me for a cup of tea yesterday, I sat and sipped my Chai Latte and flipped through my cellphone, checking my FB feed and reading emails and maybe even eavesdropped on the conversations around me.

I know. I know. It’s not polite to eavesdrop but… people often talk so loudly in public places I wonder if they think no one is listening. I figure it’s only polite to not let them raise their voices in vain.

Anyway, this post isn’t about eavesdropping. It’s about marks we leave on the world around us.

We all have a presence in the world. We make an imprint. On our families, community, workspace, cyperspace.

Sometimes, our mark is like my lipstick stain on a mug. It’s fleeting. A momentary smudge and then it’s gone. It’s impact is minimal. It may only affect one or two people and then, it is washed away.

 

And yet, in that one mark, we have the opportunity to make a difference. To make an impression.

Years ago, when I was volunteering with a woman who made sandwiches for people on the streets of the east end of Vancouver, I used to imagine that as I layered mustard and ham and other fillings on each sandwich, I was also layering in love. That, along with the nutrients of the food, each bite of every sandwich I made included a big bite of love so that the individual biting into it was being filled physically, and emotionally.

I don’t know who will wash off that lipstick stain. I do know that they can see it as an annoying leftover from a customer who wore lipstick, or, they can see it as a gentle kiss of connection.

What if they imagined that the person sipping that cup savoured every drop of their Chai Latte and as they sipped it, they were transported by the fragrant spicy aromas to lands far away where palm trees swayed in the hot tropical sun and warm ocean breezes wafted through an open window bringing with it the sounds of parrots squawking and waves lapping at the sands.

I have no control over what happens in the mind of the person who will wash that mug. I do have control over what thoughts I leave behind with my lipstick impression.

I can choose to make them thoughts of gratitude. Of peace. Of appreciation for the momentary respite to sit and sip a Chai and watch the world around me and be transported to grand spaces and thoughts and ideas I’d never before imagined.

And in the marks I leave behind, I can choose to imagine they are filled with my thoughts of possibility, of hope, of loving kindness and joyful appreciation.

I can also choose to be conscious of the marks I leave on the world around me, and when I leave one that might cause extra work or unease for the person behind me, I can choose to wipe it away before they have to clean up my mess.

Or maybe even, not put on fresh lipstick before going for a tea!

 

 


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Jail Break!

comfort-zone-break-out-copy

It was a simple statement made at a retirement party for a dear friend.

We had each been asked to state our wishes for the man retiring. One woman said, “I wish for you the courage to do something new. To try new things, things you’ve never thought of doing or things you’ve always dreamt of doing but never did.”

What a perfect wish. For any time of life.

Why wait for retirement?

It is easy to get trapped into believing there is one way and one way only to live your life. It’s easy to tell yourself that there are limited options in what you can or can’t do, can or can’t change.

Over time, we become accustomed to living our life ‘this way’. We become comfortable in the known and venture less and less beyond the corridors of our comfort zone. Eventually, our comfort zone gets narrower and narrower until the ruts become walls of regret, disappointments, fears, disbeliefs and limitations. Stepping out, over, around, beyond those walls is important — no matter your age you’re never too old to break out of the jail of your self-imprisonment!

This Christmas, a friend and I are launching a project to tell the stories of those whose lives once included homelessness. We will be filming Season’s Greetings from people who once walked the streets, slept rough or in shelter beds, and who are now living in their own homes. The vision, to connect heart to heart via the wishes and stories people share, to family and friends far away.

I used to do this every Christmas when I worked at a homeless shelter. We’d invite clients, staff and volunteers to film a Christmas greeting and put the greetings online at the shelters website. The difference this time is we will be visiting people in their homes. Sharing their greetings from a place many people never imagined they would ever find themselves again — at home.

Our vision is that through these stories/greetings we will expand our understanding of what it means to have a home, a place, an address.

Stay tuned for more as we develop ‘the idea’ for The Gift Project into something concrete, something meaningful, something we believe will open all of us up to the conversation of our human condition. The conversation around belonging.

Starting this project is a stretch. A step beyond the comfort of celebrating Christmas the way I always do. I’m not doing it as part of an ‘agency’. I’m doing it as part of a team that wants to make a difference by contributing to our human story.

I’m excited. We have a film crew and a film production company on board to edit the videos. The website is under development. The possibilities are expanding.

What about you?

What’s exciting you to step beyond the walls of your comfort zone into expanding your understanding of what it means to live your life on purpose?

 


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Dare boldly.

Perhaps it is that I have run out of words, or maybe just energy. Perhaps my psyche is telling me I have nothing new to say, or that everything I’ve said stands as true today as it did when I wrote it. Perhaps it is just I need a change of pace. That in order to get a fitness routine cemented into my daily schedule, I need to make space in the morning and not leave it until after work when it’s easy to talk myself out of going to the gym.

Or maybe, it’s just time for a reboot, refresh, renew.

Whatever the reason, I’m looking at ways to refresh my blog. To refocus it so that it feels more organic to my daily life.

I have been writing a blog almost daily since March 2007. On that blog, Recover Your Joy, I wrote 1,730 posts.

I have been writing here at Dare Boldly, originally called, A Year of Making a Difference, since January 1, 2012, a total of 1,213 posts.

Which means, over the past 9 and a half years, I’ve published, 2,943 blogposts. If I break it down by an average of 700 words a post (which is probably short for me) I have written over 2 million words.

That’s a lot of words.

A lot of thoughts.

A lot of ideas.

Which raises the question for me — what’s my focus?

Originally, on my Recover Your Joy blog, my intent was to take every day situations and show people how to find the joy in everything. That included the many stories of homelessness I shared, the trials and tribulations of healing from life’s traumas, and the realities of being a single, working mother.

When I started A Year of Making a Difference, it was with the specific intent of figuring out how to make a difference ever day, even when I wasn’t working at a homeless shelter. It morphed into Dare Boldly in 2014 as I got clearer on what I wanted to inspire in other people’s lives, as well as my own: to  Dare Boldly. Live Bravely

It started as Dare Boldly after I wrote a poem called DARE and a dear friend, Max Ciesielski, sent me a track of music he wrote to go with the poem — and asked me to record it.

seasons of the heart retreat copyYou can hear it HERE.

That poem evolved from a painting and blessing I used to announce the new name of my blog, Dare Boldly, on January 1, 2014:
dare boldly 1 copy

And I continue to evolve.

All this means is that I am reassessing my online presence, the purpose of my writing here, the value of maintaining a daily schedule and the alternatives. It means in the coming weeks I probably won’t be appearing every weekday with any predictable schedule and it means, you’ll be seeing some changes as I adjust my theme, look, feel and direction.

It’s all good. All exciting. All important to me.


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A fight he didn’t see coming.

He is bleeding. His face a mass of blood oozing across his skin.

He is angry. Yelling. Thrusting his fist into the air. Walking in tight, angry circles.

When I first see him he is lying on the ground. Curled into a ball. Holding his stomach. There is a swarm of youth around him. Kicking. Punching. Yelling.

I stop my car. Honk the horn. Others do the same.

The crowd of 15 or so youth who are beating on him run off, darting down the alley with the lightning fast speed of a school of fish escaping into the shadows.

The young man lies on the ground, three youth remain protectively near him, trying to ward off any of the youth from returning.

A woman runs across the road, kneels by the young man. I park my car, grab my cell phone, put on the emergency flashers and run across the road towards the young man lying on the ground.

A woman stands on the sidewalk, cell phone pressed to her ear. “Are you calling 9-1-1?” I ask.

“Yes. Did you see it happen?”

“No.” I reply. “I just saw the end.”

Her hand is shaking where she holds her phone to her ear. “It was awful. They appeared out of nowhere. A whole swarm of them. It was awful,” she repeats.

I touch her arm. “It’s okay. Just stay on the line for 9-1-1.”

I walk over to the youth and the young woman kneeling beside him. “What can I do to help? Do you need tissues?”

The young woman looks up at me. The young man slowly sits up. Blood streams down his face.

“Yes. Go to the shop across the road. Grab some tissue.”

I run across the street and into the store. The owner is on the phone. Talking. He looks at me, mouths 9-1-1. I nod. Ask him for tissue. Paper towel. Anything.

He looks around. It is a bindery. Large machinery. Rolls of leather. A beautiful antique cash register.

I spy a box of kleenex on a counter. I grab it. Show it to him. He nods.

I run back to the scene where the boy and woman are now sitting on the pavement. Except the boy can not sit still. He stands up. Moves in tight, jerky circles. Swearing. Cursing.

I hand him the box of kleenex. He says, “Thanks.” He begins to wipe the blood off his face. There is a lot of it.

A man has joined us.

I ask the young man, the boy, to sit down. Please. You may be hurt. He shrugs off my entreaties.

The man comments on the cuts on his hands. His swollen knuckles.

“You got some swings in,” he says.

The boy shakes his head. “Nah. Those are from a fight earlier today.” He is sheepish yet proud.

“Do you know why they swarmed you?” the man asks.

“It doesn’t matter,” he replies.

We three adults stand and look at each other. The boy is moving around now. Nothing seems to be broken.

I go ask the man in the shop for water. No glass I tell him. The man gives me a plastic tub and roll of paper towel.

Again, the boy is appreciative of the help.

The other woman asks him to sit back down. He sits. Quickly stands back up, pulls out his phone and dials a number. “Hey man,” he says when someone answers. “Do you know _____________? The bastard just beat the f**k out of me. Yeah. I’m gonna get him.” And he hangs up.

“Did anyone call the police?” he asks. “I don’t want the cops.”

I look at the other woman. “I didn’t call them,” I tell him.

“Neither did I,” she replies. We do not mention the other passer-bys or the man in the bindery shop who was on the phone.

But it doesn’t matter. His fear of their intervention is greater than the wisdom of waiting for an ambulance.

He and the other two youth take off.

We three adults who happened upon the scene look at each other. The man says we may as well go. I grab a plastic bag from my car, clean up the dirty kleenex and paper towel and return the box of kleenex to the bindery shop.

“Pretty sad,” the man in the shop tells me. “My nephew died because he was living a life like that boy.”

“I’m so sorry,” I tell him.

“Yeah. It’s hard. You can put all the help you want in front of them but if they don’t know how to reach for it…”

I happened upon a young man being beaten as I drove home from work yesterday.

And I wonder if one day I will open the paper and he will be a victim or a perpetrator of a crime from which he cannot walk away.

It is not a happy thought. But it is a possible reality.

It is why we must never give up on reaching out. Because as that man in the shop said, It isn’t that he didn’t want help. He just doesn’t know how to reach for it.

And the only way to teach him is to keep reaching out so that when he does decide to reach back, help will be there.

Namaste.

.


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Share joyfully | 52 Acts of Grace | Week 3

acts of grace week 3 copy

Last week’s invitation to Inspiring Acts of Grace, “Give someone a gift of words” was challenging. It’s wonderful to tell people the things I like most about them in any given moment — it’s another to remember to do so!

Here’s the thing though, I could have done more giving of gifts of words, if I’d just remembered to do so.

Like, when talking to my sister, I could have remembered to tell her how much I appreciate how she took our mother to the hearing aid clinic on Friday — and how I appreciate all she does to ensure our mother is cared for and supported.

Or, when talking to my eldest daughter, I could have told her how I value her feedback and admire her ability to create inspiring words on her blog. (If you haven’t been reading her blog, give yourself the gift of her words. Amazing!  Find her here:  Alexis Marie Ink )

Or, with my youngest daughter, I could have remembered to tell her how I admire how committed she is to give back to community with the work she does as a board member for a local not for profit (I also appreciate being asked to give feedback on a project she’s developing for them).

Or, with C.C., my beloved, when he made me dinner, how I appreciate the efforts he takes to make my life easier.

Or, with the waitress at the Wildrose Pub when we went for lunch one day, how her warm smile made me feel very welcome.

Or, with my lovely friend Sherry who acquired one of my paintings and then promptly had her husband hang it in their living room, how I appreciate the affirmation her desire to have one of my paintings hanging in a place of honour in her home feels. Same holds true for my dear friend Kerry who is now the owner of the painting I’m using for my Inspiring Acts of Grace weekly blog posts. I love the feeling that my work is ‘coveted’ by others. It truly inspires me.

So many missed opportunities to give gifts of words last week!  And while I did give some, in retrospect I can see how not being conscious of the act of giving gifts of words, impeded my giving of those gifts!

NOTE TO SELF:  Stay conscious of sharing inspiring acts of grace in my every day living.

Which is why, this week’s Act of Grace is similar to last weeks.

Practice makes perfect.

Have a wonderful week.

 

 


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it is in not forgetting, we remember

poppy“We often look at the society we live in [in Canada] as being a peaceful and tranquil place where we can go about our lives. It’s not always evident, except on Remembrance Day, as to how it came about. Taking part in battles, fighting for our freedoms, being involved in peacekeeping missions and working through our international partners such as United Nations, make a more peaceful world as well as a secured Canada. I am thankful every day for that sacrifice, that service – putting themselves in harm’s way to keep our society largely democratic and free. We owe them [veterans] a deep gratitude – it’s up to us to remember that on November 11 that this didn’t just happen. People fought and gave up their lives and were committed to the cause, to see that we live in this age of peace and tranquility here at home.”

 -Kent Hehr, MP Calgary Centre and Minister of Veterans Affairs

It is in not forgetting, we remember

Guest Blog Written by Darcy Halber

Since I was little I’ve worn a poppy in the first two weeks of November, pinned to my coat just over my heart. I stood in the Remembrance Day ceremonies in the gym at school while someone read aloud “In Flanders Fields” and our school band played “The Last Post.” I held my minute of silence at that eleventh hour and felt an ache in my heart for those I could never really thank, who sacrificed for a generation they would never meet. I remember wondering if our offering of gratitude was enough.

As I graduated and left school, I would occasionally wear my poppy and sometimes I would remember to go to a Remembrance Day ceremony. I would see the displays in the malls and glance at them as I walked by. Sometimes they would stir me, other days they blended in with the scenery and Christmas decorations. If the T.V. was on and the news broadcasting a ceremony, I would pause on it for a few seconds before moving on.

But despite my vague commitment, every year on November 11th, at that eleventh hour, I remembered my moment of silence and that familiar ache would settle into my chest.

Why, I couldn’t tell you. Or myself for that matter. No one in my family had ever fought in a war. There used to be a military base in the small B.C. town that I grew up in, but it closed and moved up north when I was young. Perhaps it was because of all those years in grade school, when they packed us all into the gymnasium and gave us no choice but to remember and to reflect on those who fought for a freedom we took for granted. Or perhaps it was because my mother, ever a scholar and indignant that it was no longer part of our school curriculum, had us each read Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” in our grade 7 year.

Perhaps.

And then two and a half years ago, I met the man who would become my husband. And I knew.

I met a man who enlisted at seventeen years of age, who became part of a Special Operations Unit at eighteen, who deployed when he was nineteen and who turned twenty in the middle of a desert in a country whose people were not free. I met a man who had seen 5 friends die before the age of twenty-one, who at twenty-two had to present a folded flag to the wife of a friend who would never come back and who escorted a fellow warrior’s body to his burial amidst name calling protesters shouting for “peace.”

I met a man who joined for love of country, but who stayed because of the man to his left and to his right. I met a man who came back quieter than he was before he left, a man who accepts thanks, not because he considers himself deserving, but for those who can no longer accept the thanks themselves. Who has good days and sometimes bad days when the memories become too much.

I met a man who helped me understand that ache in my heart for men and women I didn’t know. A man who helped me understand that I felt, not because I truly understand the value of my freedom, but because there were those before me who did. He helped me understand that I mourn for those like my husband who have buried friends, and for those wives who have buried husbands all so that I would not have to.

He helped me to understand that it is not a crime to not truly understand the incredible value of our freedom. How could we? We’ve never had to fight for it.

Someone else did.

He helped me to understand that our crime is not in not understanding.

It is in forgetting.

So remember that your freedom is not free. Hold that ache in your heart and let it help you to remember those we can never truly thank.

And let that be enough.

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Darcy Halber came to work on the Comms team at the Calgary Homeless Foundation earlier this year. She is smart, funny, talented, kind, generous of spirit and thoughtful.

She wrote this blog post for the CHF blog and when I asked if I could share it here, she graciously agreed. Thank you Darcy for your heart, your words and your reminder to listen to the ache in our hearts so that we never forget the cost and the value of our freedom.