Beyond All We Know.

The leaves whisper amidst the trees branches reaching out towards the sun. “Lean further! Lean further! You’ve got to lean further to reach the sun!”

And the branches push out and away from their trunks, their arms reaching further and further into the space beyond where they must compete with their brethren to gather sunlight.

And the trunks pull back, rooting themselves deeper and deeper into the ground they know so well. Desperately they fight against gravity, trying to keep their branches from reaching too far. “Too far is dangerous,” they tell the branches. “Lean too far and you will break.”

It is the dance of nature. A never-ending ballet of leaves yearning for light and branches pulling against their roots as they reach for the sun.

It is the dance of life.

Our dreams call us to lean out, further, away from our comfort zones, out beyond the realm of where we tell ourselves we will be safe, into the space beyond all we know, all we believe to be true.

Rooted in our fears, we ground ourselves in the belief to risk change is to lose control of all we know, all we believe to be true.

We cannot change when we stand in the same spot, rooted in our fears.

To change, we must uproot our fears and let courage draw us out of our comfort zones into the vast universe of possibility beyond all we know, all we believe to be true.

_____________________________________________

Every morning, Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I pass through the copse of trees in the picture above.

I haven’t noticed before how far they lean out. I have focused instead on the taller trees surrounding them.

This morning, I noticed their stance and the muse bid me to awaken.

.Namaste

I Will Always Catch You

When she was just a little girl, her father taught her to climb stairs and boulders and playground monkey bars and ladders.

She would stand at the top, hold out her arms and cry out with delight, “Catch me Daddy! Catch me!”

And her father would stand below, arms stretched out towards her and say, “I will always catch you.”

As time passed and she grew older, the climbs became more difficult, but she was never afraid of falling. She always knew her father would be standing below, arms outstretched towards her saying, as he always did, “I will always catch you.”

Time passed, life flowed onwards and with its constant movement, she too moved away to start her own life far from her father. They still talked on the phone and always on her birthday, she would come to visit to walk to the park where she had learned to climb and fly, safe in the knowledge her father would always catch her.

Seasons changed, years passed and as she grew older so too did her father. Slowly, with the passing of time, he was no longer able to always be there to catch her when she fell, but she always knew that if she did, he would help her get back up. It was his promise.

“I can’t always catch you when you fall,” he told her when first she moved away from home. “But I promise, I will always be there to help you get back up.”

One day, after his daughter called to say she could not make it home to celebrate her birthday with him as she had to travel to a city far away, he walked to the park where every birthday when she was a little girl, she’d climbed the slide and stood at the top and stretched out her arms towards him and called out, “Catch me daddy! Catch me!”,

On this day many years later, he sat on a bench in the shade of a mighty oak tree and watched a little girl with flaxen hair and sparkling blue eyes climb up the stairs to the top of the slide. A short distance away, too far to catch her if she fell, her father stood unaware, his head turned down, reading something on the phone he held in his hands.

The old man, who had once reached out his arms towards his daughter and said, “I will always catch you,” watched in dismay as the little girl stood at the top of the slide and called out to her father, “Catch me daddy! Catch me!”. Her father didn’t hear her.

The old man stood up from the bench and slowly began to shuffle, as fast as his arthritic legs would let him, towards the child who still stood at the top of the slide, arms outstretched calling to her father, “Catch me daddy! Catch me!”

“Hey!” the old man called out to the father standing with his head bent towards his phone. “Hey! Watch out! She’s going to fall!”

The father, hearing the old man’s voice, looked up and saw the old man, his arms waving wildly around his face pointing towards his daughter where she stood at the top of the slide, calling to him, “Catch me Daddy! Catch me!”

In one seamless move, he tucked his phone into his jacket pocket, took three strides towards the slide and reached his arms out towards his daughter. “I will always catch you,” he said as the tiny bundle of her body catapulted itself down the slide into his waiting arms.

The old man stopped and watched the two pair of arms unite. The child laughed in delight as her father picked her up, held her above his head and spun her about just as he had once spun his daughter so long ago.

The father carefully put his daughter on the ground the thee two moved off towards the swings, the little girl holding his hand and she said in her sing-song voice, “I want to swing as high as the sky!” And the father placed her on the stretch of rubber seating and began to push her. The child laughed and called out. “Higher! Higher! I want to touch the sky” And the father pushed her higher and higher until she let go of the swings chains and called out, “Catch me Daddy! Catch me!”

And he did.

Slowly, the old man turned away and began walking back towards his home. His heart felt heavy with the longing for a child’s arms outstretched towards him and his reaching back.

Lost in memory he didn’t notice he’d reached the main road and stepped off the sidewalk without stopping to check for traffic.

Suddenly, a pair of hands reached out and grabbed his shoulders, pulling him back to safety just as a city bus went whizzing by.

Startled, he lost his footing and almost fell to the ground, but the same hands gently caught him and broke his fall. He took a shaky breath, turned his face up to thank his would be savior where they knelt beside him as he sat on the ground.

“Are you okay?” a voice he recognized asked. He turned his face and his eyes opened wide as he peered into the deep blue eyes of his daughter kneeling beside him.

“How is this possible?” he asked breathlessly. “You said you were going to a city far away.”

And his daughter smiled and said, “I wanted to surprise you.”

The old man reached out with a shaky hand to take hers and said, “I’m so glad you were here to catch me.”

And his daughter smiled again and said, “You need to pay more attention dad to where you’re going. That bus almost hit you. I can’t always be here to catch you.”

And her father nodded his head, his white hair moving around his face like feathers floating in the air.

Slowly he began to stand and asked, “Will you help me get back up?”

And she reached one hand under his elbow and said, “Of course.” And as she helped him get to his feet she said, “I can’t always be here to catch you when you fall, but I will always help you get back up.”

______________________________________

Yesterday, a dear friend, Max, called. We haven’t spoken in a long time, but it was as if time had not passed.

In our conversation, he shared many stories of the people who have helped him on his journey. “I have an idea,” he said. “What do you think about writing a poem called, “I Will Always Catch You.”

Several years ago, Max wrote music to a poem I’d written and recorded called, “Dare“. (You can read about it and listen to the recording, HERE)

I loved the idea of writing a poem to his title — it fits so well to something I used to tell my daughters when, as young adults, they set off to make their way in the world. “I can’t always be there to stop your fall,” I told them. “Sometimes, it’s best I don’t. But know, that no matter where or how hard you fall, I will always be there to help you get back up.”

This morning, as Beau and I walked in the cool September air of an autumnal day, Max’s idea kept percolating through my mind. When I came home, I sat down at my desk and the story above appeared.

Thank you Max. It’s not ‘a poem’… YET – like the river, life takes its own course weaving its stories in mysterious and mystical ways.

I Wrote A Letter To My Lover

Two things happened this morning. Both took me in unexpected directions.

Gratitude and curiosity fueled each experience and brought them together on a river of creative expression flowing free.

David Kanigan’s Monday Morning WakeUp Call today lead me to the website, The Vale of Soul-Making. Exquisite. Provocative. I got lost in its words.

The morning post I receive every day from Daily Om connected me to thoughts I’d had yesterday about personality. How it’s so easy to get trapped in believing ‘we are the way we are and there’s nothing that can be done about that.’

At the time of that thought drifting into my mind, I was walking along the rocky beach between the river and the forest, my mind skipping from thought to thought, like a stone skimming and dipping, skimming and dipping along the water’s surface.

At one point a thought skipped into view that surprised me. “You know, Louise,” the thought whispered. “One of the gifts of that relationship with the man of ill-intent was that because your personality was so completely submerged in his abusive ways, when he was arrested and you got your life back, you had to rebuild yourself up from the soles of your feet to the soul of your being who you’re truly meant to be.”

It was a fascinating thought. But, because I was wandering along the river, savouring the sunshine on my face, throwing the ball and watching Beau race after it interspersed with his stopping every so often to follow a scent that caught his olfactory glands in unexpected ways, I let the thought drift away.

This morning, I read one of the many quotes offered by Nick Flynn at The Vale of Soul-Making and that thought skipped back into view.

And then, I read “Finding Another Perspective” at Daily Om and my heart did one of those skippity-dippity hops it likes to do when it finds the subterranean flow of its beat rising to the surface in joyful exhalation and my lungs gave a giddy sigh of satisfaction and my lips smiled wide and my eyes popped open and I exclaimed to no one and to the world, “Oh Yes!”

And then…. as so often happens when I follow the winding way of my thoughts flowing through, a poem appeared as if floating on a lifeboat of possibility.

And here it is. I do so love the unexpectedness and joyfulness of the muse’s way of drawing me into creative expression.

A Letter To My Lover
by Louise Gallagher

I wrote a letter to my lover
long gone from this sphere
of my life orbiting 
around the one I have become
rising up 
from the ashes of a love
that was never truer
than the lies
he told to enslave me
in the poisonous venom
of his unrequited self-hatred.

I wrote a letter to my lover
Thank you, I said,
you saved me from my belief
who I was, was all I could ever be
locked up in a painful construct
of believing I was never good enough
to be free.

I wrote a letter to my lover.
I am free.

The Cabinet Liberators

It’s not ‘beautiful’ but it is useful!

For 3+ years, our old kitchen cabinets sat in the basement, gathering dust, taking up space.

Last week, I finally got around to removing all the stuff I’d piled inside them and moving them out into the middle of the floor so I could take photos and C.C. could put them on a social media market site.

Fifteen solid walnut kitchen cabinets. For Free.

The only caveat was, they had to take ALL of them.

And they needed to be able to carry them up from the basement and out the front door.

The first couple who arrived drove up in a big SUV trailing a small trailer. I was curious how a man and woman in their 60s, him with bad knees, her with a bad back (they told me) were going to navigate the physical labour part of the deal.

In the end, they chose not to.

The second cabinet liberators were two very fit, younger men undaunted by the prospect of carrying the cabinets up the stairs and out the door.

They filled their trailer with the first 6 cabinets and said, “We’ll have to come back for the rest.”

And they did.

Except, as they finished carrying up the 10th cabinet one of the men told me they needed to go pick up lumber and would be back. Tomorrow.

I needed to believe him so I smiled and said, “Great! See you in the morning.”

They never returned.

At first, I was ticked. I mean seriously? The deal was ALL the cabinets, not just 10 of them.

C.C. put the five remaining back up on the market site, but they were a disparate lot. There were no takers.

Finally, seeking to find value in all things, (and having no desire to rent a truck and haul them to the landfill to create more waste) I decided to make use of the remaining five.

And that’s when the true gift of The Cabinet Liberators deception became my reality.

After three days of sorting, moving, clearing out and shovelling out things that have been cluttering up the basement, I have a fabulous (albeit not beautiful) new work space where I can keep things like my big paper cutter, my Cricut, Big Shot and other paraphernalia I use occasionally. (but would probably use more often if they were more easily accessible). I also have wall space to hang some old paintings!

And here’s the thing, the man who said he was coming back for the rest of the cabinets and didn’t… I have a feeling he is carrying the guilt of lying. I could see it in his face when he told me they would be back the next day. His eyes looked down. He was flushed and gave me a nervous smile.

So… just in case he is feeling guilty, I forgive him and his partner ‘in crime’.

Ultimately, they did me a favour. Had they taken all 15, I’d be trying to figure out what to do with all the paraphernalia that needed a home.

Yes. It would have been nicer if he’d just told me the truth. But his deception only created a momentary pang of annoyance before I got to work making it work for me.

So… I set my pangs of annoyance free and embrace the feeling of gratitude and relief that comes with finding a solution that is a win/win for everyone involved.

And I say, Thank you Cabinet Liberators. May the cabinets you took be of great value to you. May they fill your home or whatever space you’re using them for, with a sense of joy in their usefulness. And, may you know peace.

And if he’s not carrying the guilt I suspect, that’s okay too. A little gratitude and forgiveness goes a long way to easing any burden I might be carrying!

Namaste.

Page 40. Line 8.

Sometimes, when she thought no one was looking, she would sprinkle fairy dust on the flowers in her garden and watch the colours flow, wild and free, cascading like a stream pouring over a waterfall, onto the ground, turning the world into all the colours of the rainbow. 

Delighted by her creation, she'd splash with joyful abandon amidst the running colours until exhausted, she fell into a pool of cherry red and periwinkle blue and sunshine yellow and viridian green swirling all around her. Content to be amongst the living colours dancing in harmony, she'd fall asleep and drift into dreamland.  

It was there, floating upon a cloud of shimmering violet, she dreamt of flying high in the sky, sprinkling fairy dust all over the world. And as the colours ran free, pouring their beauty into the hearts and minds of everyone, notes of harmony and joy rang out amongst the hills and valleys, from mountain tops and deep from beneath the ocean beds. And all around the world, the animals danced and the people leapt for joy, and the trees swayed in the beauty, harmony and peace of the world around them.

Satisfied with her creation, she fell deeper and deeper into sleep, wishing and hoping she never had to wake up to a world without colours running free and mountains singing for joy and harmony ringing out in all the voices of humankind.

And so it was. And so it is. And so she sleeps on and on and on.

I have started a new morning practice. I read it on a thread in an art website to which I belong and felt so inspired by the idea, I immediately jumped in.

The process is simple — Close your eyes. Pick a book from your collection. Open your eyes. Open the book to Page 40. Go to Line 8 — read it — now let whatever is on Line 8 be your writing prompt. Set your timer for 6 minutes and begin to write.

The book that picked me this morning (my first morning of entering into this morning practice) was, CREATRIX: She Who Makes by Lucy H. Pearce.

Line 8 on Page 40 reads: “Because, while my own creativity scared me, I knew subconsciously that I still had to be around the magic somehow.”

I set my timer for 6 minutes and began to write.

There was a time when my creativity scared me, when I let what others think (or at least what I thought others were thinking) dictate how I expressed my creativity. Not that I expressed it much. Mostly I tried to hide it, shield it from outside eyes, keep it buried within me. For some reason, being ‘creative’, or acknowledging that I was creative felt foolish, uncomfortable. I was embarrassed by my own nature. It was as if the very word, ‘creative’ was a dirty word, never to be spoken out loud...

Released by my 6 minute writing flow, the ‘story’ above appeared and flowed out of my fingertips as I began to write this post.

I wasn’t thinking them.

I wasn’t wishing them into being.

They simply flowed.

I hope you try it — pick a book, any book and turn to a page (I like the symmetry of page 40 but you can use any number – your age, house number, day of the week…) go to a specific line number – and use that as a prompt.

Important caveat — have your number scheme organized before you begin. It helps stave off confusion, worry and the possibility of changing your mind to find ‘something better’ to use as your prompt. Part of the magic and beauty of the prompt is its randomness and its consistency.

I hope you do give it a go and let me know how it worked/works for you!

Oh… and do remember to stay out of self-judgement and criticism. Magic only works when we let go of telling ourselves it’s just not possible, or no good or… all that jazz.

Have a colourful, joyful and peace-filled day.

Namaste.

The Stories They Wrote

No. 8 #ShePersisted Series
The Stories They Wrote
by Louise Gallagher

He wasn’t born
a criminal
though his mother said
on the day he was born
that he would grow up to be
a bad one
it was written in his stars.

She wasn’t born
drug addicted
though her father said
on the day she took her first step
that she would go nowhere
but bad
it was written in her blood.

And when he grew up
he lived true to his mother’s predictions
until he found himself in that place
where time was all you got
and he had no choice but to dig
for a way out
from beneath the layers
of a story
his mother wrote for him
on the day he was born.

And when she entered treatment
for the first time
she had to go back
again and again
to erase the scars
she’d etched into her skin
searching for the beginning
of the story her father had written
when she’d taken her first step.

And they both kept digging
and they both kept searching
and re-writing and re-wiring
the stories
they told themselves they had no choice
but to live
until to live the story of their own creation
they had no choice
but to walk away
from the stories they’d always known
but never wanted
the stories no one should have written
on the day they were born.

We all have stories. Stories we tell on ourselves, stories our family tell about us, stories we’d rather forget but can’t seem to keep ourselves from living again and again.

We all have stories.

And here’s the thing about our stories. They are personal to us. They are our experience. Two people can have a similar experience; one is traumatized and the other doesn’t give it any more thought.

Our responses are personal. They are a combination of our emotional make-up, history, experiences, environment, childhood…

In my family, there was a story of my birth that left me feeling unwanted and a disappointment. As I got older, my family quit telling that story. I didn’t. Until one day I decided, enough is enough. And I changed the story to something that celebrates my life and my being here on this earth.

The fact remains though, that until I made that choice, everything about me was shadowed by my internalized belief that I was unwanted and a disappointment.

Unravelling the feelings that story evoked and its limiting beliefs was critical to my freeing myself to live my life, my way, in joy, gratitude and Love.

Working at a homeless shelter, everyday I encountered people whose lives were a daily repetition of stories they didn’t want to live but didn’t have the knowledge nor resources to change.

This morning, as I was reading the news, the story of a young man I’d encountered at the shelter popped into my mind. When he was born, his mother had said he would be good for nothing.

At 26, he had been in and out of jail numerous times. This time, he was determined to stay out.

To do that, he had to learn tools that would help him in walking away from the story he’d been living out of his mother’s predictions.

He wasn’t born criminal. He was made that way by his environment, lack of nurturing, lack of good role models and a limiting belief that he would be good for nothing.

We all have stories. We all have limiting beliefs.

To live our own stories, we must set ourselves free of our limiting beliefs so we can write a story that celebrates the magnificent nature of our human condition.

Do you have a limiting belief that is holding you back from living life as the star you are meant to be? Are you willing to set yourself free to shine?

Fear of Looking Imperfect

One of the things that inevitably comes to the forefront for me in art-making, is my fear of looking imperfect. Of looking like an imposter, or that I haven’t got it all together.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve gotten ready for the Vale’s Greenhouse Cultivation of Art Show and Sale, I have come up against my fear again and again.

Yesterday, after what I deemed another miserable attempt to create something worthy of being part of my offerings at the show, I told my beloved, “I figured something out in the studio today.”

“What’s that?” he asked from where he sat on the sofa watching a hockey game on his laptop.

“The thing I hate about art shows is that I get all caught up in the outcome and lose my joy of creating simply for the sake of creating.”

“Oh.” he replied. “Is that why you’ve been on edge these past few days?”

I was on edge? Hmmm…

“Probably. I love being immersed in the creative nature of art-making, but what I’ve noticed, as I’ve gotten ready for the art show, is I’m not allowing the creative process to just happen. I’m making art instead of making space for art to happen.”

I paused for a moment as C.C. sat quietly watching me, waiting for me to find my way through my angst. “I hate art shows. Don’t even know why I go in. I don’t create to sell. I create to have fun. And I’m not having much fun right now.”

Ahhhh….. that little five year old loves to get into it when she feels like I’m fleeing the scene of my artistic potential.

It isn’t that she’s trying to create havoc or run amuck with my self-confidence. Rather, it’s that she feels my fear. Unfortunately, when I am running with fear as my companion, she gets scared. Scared means she can’t go play with abandon amongst the wildflowers. She can’t paint the moon all the colours of the rainbow because I am standing outside the sacred garden of my creative nature.

When I’m running with fear of my creative expression and talents, my peace of mind is a fast river of muddy waters swollen by spring run-off. .

This morning, I woke up, took Beaumont the Sheepadoodle for his early morning walk. At one point, I stood at the railing of the John Hextall pedestrian bridge which joins the western edges of the city to the downtown. I stood on the Hextall and watched the waters of the Bow River flowing deep and fast beneath it.

As I stand and watch the waters and Beau sniffs the grasses growing in the planters that line the center of the bridge, I am reminded of a poem by Apollinaire Guillaume. I was first introduced to Apollinaire in my teens. His work still resonates deeply. The poem, The Mirabeau, begins with the line, “Under the Mirabeau flows the Seine.”

And I am transported back to that child of five who danced and laughed and spun about when she was a little girl and we lived in France. Life was full of possibilities. She had such dreams, such flights of fancy and wonder and awe. There was nothing she couldn’t do and she planned on doing it all.

And I hear her whispering deep within me. “Let me go back to where I am free to run amidst the wildflowers and paint the moon all the colours of the rainbow. Let me go back so you can run free of fear standing here on the Hextall above the Bow.

And when I return home I take a flight of fancy and write an homage to Appollinaire.

An Homage to Appollinaire
by Louise Gallagher

Under the Hextall flows the Bow
muddy waters churning
the mountains are running 
free
of winter’s excess
the lakes are flowing 
clear
of mother nature’s blanket
frozen
against their beauty

I stand on the bridge
and cast my doubts
into the fast-flowing waters
free
of fear that the waters
will never run clear again
that the lakes
will never thaw
that I will never
be free
of fear

I cast my doubts
beyond the thrall
of my confusion
and breathe
the morning’s cool fresh
kisses
falling
upon my face
where I stand 
musing
on the Hextall
above the Bow.

And I return to my studio.

I need not fear my imperfections. I only need to embrace them so that I am free to celebrate my creative expressions in all their many colours, all their multi-dimensions and all their unique expressions.

In that frame of mind, I let go of expectations and outcome and throw myself with abandon into the deep running waters of my creative expressions flowing free.

Namaste

It Is Their Ways That Will Heal Us.

They are getting ready, these tiny bodies of winged possibility that have only known the nest their mother built since first she laid them in its safety and sat for days and days on end upon their shells until they were born.

I have watched them over the past three weeks grow from tiny, featherless newborns into feathered beauty with wings unfolding with every breath they take.

I have watched the mother and father robin carefully tending to their young. Bringing food. Sustenance. Warmth.

The father doesn’t linger long. But he is never far away.

Over these first weeks of life, the mother has moved from sitting in the nest for hours on end, to sitting on its edge for brief spurts of time, trusting in nature to take its course and give her babies the gift of flight.

Her babies are growing stronger. Soon it will be time.

And I sit and watch and marvel at the power of nature. To create life. Sustain life. Set it free.

And I think of the mothers whose children were taken from them so young. Who never had the chance to nurture and sustain their offspring. Who never had the gift of seeing them take flight.

And I think of how, in their pain, they wandered through their days searching for their missing children until they could no longer stand the pain.

And how, like a bird with a broken wing, they had to tend to their own wounds. Heal, as best they could, the gaping holes that could never be filled. How, they yearned again for those days when their children ran and played and sang songs and told stories and gathered around the table and shared a meal and bickered amongst themselves knowing, that no matter what, their lives were woven together with strands of love threaded through a way of life that could never be erased.

Until it was.

Until a force greater than their mother’s arms could hold back and their father’s breath could push away, swept in and tore the ties that bind apart, ripping out the hearts of the weavers who had built the nest they called their home.

And how, over generations and generations of unravelling the ties that bind, there was nothing left of the threads of all their ancestors weaving the vibrant stories that had sustained them, nurtured them, carried them through their lives. Nothing left of the songs that sang them awake and the stories that lulled them to sleep. Nothing left of the way of life threaded through their history, for their history was gone. Rewritten. Erased. Assimilated.

Until one day, there was a murmuring. It wasn’t loud, but it was steady. Like a heartbeat. And in its steady thrum, thrum, it whispered a song of hope, rising up, Up across the land calling their ancestors and all their relations to rise with it.

And in its beat, a memory flickered through the darkness, and then another and another. Memories full of the way it was when the rivers ran deep teeming with fish and the buffalo roamed the prairies as far as the eye could see. Memories of the forest paths beckoning with healing ferns and moss and flora. Memories of when the drums beat loud and the fires burned bright. Memories of the stories the elders told that guided the young in the ways of their people as their mothers wove baskets in the light of the fire and their fathers hunted for the foods that would sustain them. Memories of their ancient ways. Ways that nurtured and sustained and honoured all of life.

It began as just a murmuring, a gentle breath of hope. It is growing. Louder.

And their wings are growing. Stronger.

And the way is growing. Clearer.

And their hearts are beating. Faster.

And the drums are pounding. Fiercer.

Soon. Soon. It will be time.

Time to erase the erasing of their ways that could never be erased because theirs are the way of nature and nature can never be erased. It flows always. In the rivers. In the seas. In the air we breathe. In the light of the sun and the cast of the moon. It flows deep within the earth that has always nurtured and sustained life on this planet we call our home. This planet that is growing weary of our ways that is killing off its creatures, poisoning its waters, clogging up its air.

This earth is calling them to awaken to their ways.

It is time. Time for the stories to be told. For the light to return. Time for the threads of yesterday to be woven back into the tapestry of life that was their way. And is their way.

It is their ways that will sustain and nurture us.

It is their ways that will heal the wounds.

It is their ways that will heal the truth.

It is their ways that will heal the earth and all of nature.

If is time for us to step aside and let their ways lead us all back into nature’s balance.

More Than Just a Lost Boy

In school, I vaguely, and I mean vaguely, remember learning about Sir John A Macdonald. Sir Wilfred Laurier, Langevin and the other ‘Founding Fathers of Confederation’ as well as the Davin Report, the full name of which was, Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds. (Source)

I vaguely, and I mean vaguely, remember learning about how the Davin Report set the path for the assimilation of children into the Euro-centric culture of Canada’s founding fathers. It proposed a cooperative approach between the Canadian government and the church to implement the “aggressive assimilation” pursued by President of the United StatesUlysses S. Grant.[29][28]:1.

I remember vaguely, and I mean vaguely, photographs of the painting above. it is a recreation of an original painting by Richard Harris that hung in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa from 1884 to 1916 when it was destroyed in a fire that also destroyed the original Parliament Buildings. In 1964, Confederation Life, an insurance company, commissioned artist, Rex Wood, to recreate the original painting to be presented in honour of Canada’s Centennial. In the recreated version, three figures, who had not been considered Founding Fathers in 1883 when the original painting was commissioned, were added on the right.

I remember vaguely, and I mean vaguely, having to re-enact in some elementary school class, the negotiations, the haggling, the political maneuverings needed to get signatures on the bottom line of The British North American Act, Canada’s constitution.

I know, and I mean know, I did not ask, where are the Chiefs in this painting? Where are the First Nations people who were the first to inhabit these lands? Why were they not signatories? Why aren’t they in the painting?

I also know, and I mean know, whatever I learned about ‘assimilation’ it was framed in the language of the founding fathers, because I know, and I mean know, I never thought to ask…

What about the children? What about the residential schools?

What about the attempted annihilation of those who walked these lands, who hunted and planted, who gathered and raised families and had their own system of governance, who built canoes and lodges, who knew the medicinal values of all the plants and could heal broken limbs and festering sores with their knowledge rooted in the forests and lakes, the mountains and rivers of this land and who had lived here for centuries long before white man arrived?

I know this because I know that I was never taught about the residential school system when I was in school. I was never taught to question the purpose, value and impact of assimilation.

I could not question what I did not know.

My education into the harm done by the residential school system began in the 1990s when I began working on a project with a group of street-engaged teens. We were writing a play together. Its purpose: to build a bridge from street life to main street. To give those who did not know, an opportunity to learn more about something they did not understand – -street life.

Several of the teens involved in this project were Indigenous. Like the other young people involved they were thoughtful. Articulate. Passionate about the project and committed to using it as a vehicle to reach other teens to let them know, street life is not the solution. It is a road to more pain and suffering.

I was involved with this project for three years. In the second play we wrote there was a young man involved, I’ll call him Chris, who had run away from a reserve in Saskatchewan.

I credit Chris with awakening me to the horrors of the residential school system and its lasting impact on Indigenous peoples.

Both his parents, his aunties and uncles, they all attended the schools. They had never been lovingly parented. Deeply wounded, they did not know how to parent their own children.

Chris wasn’t angry with his parents. He was angry with ‘the white man’. With authority. With a system that denied him dignity, respect, justice and freedom.

And still, for all his anger and pain, Chris kept turning up for our group every single Wednesday afternoon. He didn’t have a home, but he did have a place to belong in our small group of fledgling writers and actors.

The play itself was a cooperative endeavour. Everyone involved offered their words and ideas and as a group, we chose which ‘story-line’ to pursue in the overarching piece.

Chris was an inspired rapper. His words penetrating. His emotions ran deep.

Everyone agreed, Chris’ story was a pivotal piece of the play and he was hyped to be giving voice to his people’s story.

And then, a few days before the play was to be mounted, I received a call from Chris.

He was in tears.

I’ve been arrested, he told me. I won’t be out before the play.

I struggled to find a way to get Chris permission to still be able to be part of the play. But the system was greater than me.

I don’t know what happened to Chris after that as once the prison doors closed, I lost touch with him.

What I do know, and I mean know, is that Chris made a difference in my life. He opened the door to the dark underbelly of our history. His wasn’t just ‘a story of a boy lost to the streets’. It was the story of an entire people whom, despite the centuries of abuse they’d endured, had never lost their will to fight. To survive. To live.

I don’t know where Chris is now, but I believe, and I mean believe deeply, that wherever he is, Chris is waking people up to the fact, ‘not knowing’ is not good enough.

We must educate ourselves. We must start asking questions. Demanding action. Creating change. Now.

What are you willing to do?

I feel like I have been holding my breath for the past week. I feel like the burden of these days have settled on my spirit, bringing me little peace of mind, little gentleness of body.

Mind and body are all one.

Our human condition is all one.

We are all one people sharing this one planet walking this one earth, together.

We are One.

Peel back my skin, my blood runs red. My bones are white.

Peel back your skin, your blood runs red. Your bones are white.

Peel back the layers of my story, your story, we were all born of a mother’s womb. Different yet the same.

Our lives entered this world through a force of nature that sometimes feels too mystical, too ephemerally magical to comprehend.

Yet here we are. Walking this one earth. Sharing the same air. The same waters. Lands. Breath.

A friend commented on my FB page this morning that “There is always light after darkness.”

She’s right. The earth turns. The sun rises. Darkness rests. The earth turns. Sun rises….

If we keep our eyes closed, we will never see the light. To see the light, we must step into the darkness with our eyes and heart and minds wide open to its shadows, its hidden mysteries, its beauty.

The lights shines brightest in the darkness. So does truth.

In an email exchange with a friend this morning I commented on how to heal, Indigenous peoples have had to be able to speak the truth of what happened to them.

In my own life, speaking truth has helped me heal from childhood abuse, initmate partner abuse, and from my own misdeeds on this journey called, ‘my life’.

Speaking truth heals.

So does facing it.

And the truth is, non-Indigenous Canadians have struggled to hear the truth and to face our shared history of racism and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples because… it hurts.

It hurts to think that our forefathers acted with such cruel and callous intent towards those who walked these lands long before the first boatload of settlers arrived.

It hurts to know that, while the motivation behind Residential Schools at the time may have been considered ‘best practices of the day’, (even writing that phrase I am aghast to think it was possible knowing what we know today, but at the time, it is possible it was so) they did little to stop the abuses they uncovered, at the time and during the century and a half of their existence, and continue to take little concrete action to address the truth of the inequities of The Indian Act today which continues to limit the rights and lives of Indigenous peoples.

And it hurts to think this land, this country of which so many of us are proud, believe is a fair and just nation, is not, has never been such, and continues to be not a fair, just and equitable nation for Indigenous, First Nations, Metis, Inuit and many people of colour.

It hurts.

Truth does that sometimes. It hurts.

But when I write it out. When I state unequivocally, we are not a fair, just and equitable nation for all, there is hope. In the face of the truth, I do not have to waste my time defending against it.

In acknowledging it, I open the door to the question… “What am I willing to do about it?” What am I willing to do to dismantle the lies I’ve told, the mistruths we all told to keep the status quo in place, no longer continue to exist? No longer continue to keep those who have been harmed by our inability to bear witness to the truth, can breathe fresh air, drink clean water, live fearlessly on this land that has been their land since long before we arrived.

What am I willing to do about it?

I will speak the truth. I will not hide behind platitudes of “We’re doing our best”. “It takes time to right a ship this large.” “It’s complicated.” “Change doesn’t happen over night.” etcetera. etcetera. etcetera.

It is in our denial, in our shying away from truth, in our dismissal of facts, our refusal to hear the pain and trauma, our habit of casting blame on the victims, to wash away the struggles of many with words like, ‘it’s time to get over it’, or, ‘‘those people. they’ll never change. they’re just dirty, rotten….’, it is in our inability to listen, and hear and be present with the truth, that we become that which we do not want to be, ‘an unfair, unjust and inequitable country.’ A country where the privileges bestowed the majority, simply because of the colour of our skin, give us an inequitable right and access to fresh drinking water, education, safe housing, health care, financial well-being, freedom of speech, justice and so much more.

The light shines brightest in the darkness.

It’s time we cast light on the truth so that we can stand in the darkness of our past, and find our way into a future where all children, all people, no matter the colour of our skin, our faith, our age, our education, our history, the depth of our bank account, or our ‘connections’, have the possibility of living a future free of racism, discrimination and abuse.

A future where our Canada is a just, fair and equitable nation for its people.

Namaste.

_______________________________

The anger comes in waves — this morning’s news shared on CBC that our Federal Government “says it’s not liable for cultural damage caused by Kamloops residential school: court documents”

I use the ‘our’ intentionally. This is our government. We cannot, must not, let them get away with denying the truth.

Link to CBC article.