Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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The value in all things

What do you mean you want to lay here? I was here first.

It was a relaxing weekend.

C.C.’s daughter’s play on Friday night, (quirky, thought-provoking and well done) and a late dinner at our favourite neighbourhood restaurant, Notable.

There’s value in sharing in your partner’s pride of his children’s accomplishments and savouring a meal together to talk about life and kids and what’s going on.

On Saturday, Darwin and his team arrived to clean our gutters and windows as well as wash the outside of the house. I got to watch.

There is value in watching other people work! Especially when the result of their work is a house ready for the painters to arrive this week to paint the trim and such.

C.C. and I went grocery shopping and spent the rest of the day putzing around the house and getting dinner ready.

There is value in doing things together. Especially when it enhances intimacy and feeling connected.

Friends for dinner and a game of Settlers on Saturday night, more friends and my youngest daughter and partner for dinner Sunday night, and other than that, no agenda.

There is value in having no agenda. Value in simply going with the flow of what is happening, or not. Especially when it involves good friends and time spent together laughing and trying to outwit your opponents, all in good fun! (I lost btw but then, I never play the game to win. I just like the time spent playing with people I enjoy!)

Sunday, ever hopeful we’d be able to sit on the deck for appetizers before dinner, I put all the pillows back out after taking them in the previous evening, and then, because they were calling me to relax, I settled in for awhile to read and watch the river flow by.

There is value in watching the river flow by. Especially when the wind picks up and clouds blow in later in the day and sitting out is no longer an option. Capturing the moment and savouring its beauty is time well spent.

Yesterday, it rained. Beaumont and I had a delightful walk. The earth smelled fresh, the rain fresher. When we returned home, he lay on his mat by the front door to dry and I curled up in the corner of the sofa with my coffee, a blanket and a spy novel. Sigh. Nothing better than a rainy long weekend Monday reading a novel. I did pull out a book I’ve been reading on Leadership but its appeal waned as I sank into the comfort of being inside and dry on a beautiful rainy morning.

There is value in escaping into a book for the pure pleasure of the escape.

And don’t get me wrong. I ‘got things done’ too. There was value in those things too. Like scraping the spillover paint that was adhered to the front window since the renovation. That was a big job! I didn’t realize the streaks were inside until after the outside of the windows were cleaned. Getting a clear view makes a difference.

And I spent some time walking around the neighbourhood calling for Marley. He is still out a-wandering. I hope he comes home soon.

Whether experiencing hardship or ease, seeking to find value in all things increases my sense of gratitude for all things. Living in gratitude creates a world of harmony and joy where love flows filled with the grace of going with the flow in the river of my life.

 

 


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He’s still out there. Somewhere.

He is still out a-wandering.

We are still at home waiting for his return.

Funny how the house feels so different without his presence.

Sure do miss him.

Please come home Marley.


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Gone a-wandering

Our beloved Marley, the Great Cat, has gone a-wandering. He raced out the front door on Tuesday night and has not come home.

We are worried.

Marley is by nature an outdoor cat. We adopted him from the SPCA about 9 years ago and he immediately began his out the door dashes once ensconced in our home.

Since moving to Bow Landing, he’s not been as eager to go outside and on the few occasions he’s dashed out the door, he’s been back fairly quickly.

This time that didn’t happen.

He’s a big, black (okay somewhat overweight) green-eyed handsome dude who purrs like a motor boat at high speed and is exceptionally affectionate.

Marley came into our home as a mouser, but other than scare the mice away, or toy with them, he isn’t particularly adept at the catching part.

But man, he can love you like nobody’s business. Cuddling is his next favourite thing to eating. He doesn’t even need to be stroked to purr. The minute he’s in your vicinity, his motor starts.

Our home is along the river. We’re worried about that.

Coyote roam this area. We’re concerned about that too.

He was last seen dashing across the drive in the dark of night on Tuesday in the Montgomery area of Calgary, near the Hextall Bridge and Shouldice Park.

He’s tattooed in his left ear. But, other than being black with green eyes (and somewhat overweight) he has no other distinguishing features. Oh. But he is beautiful!

If you happen upon him, you’ll be rewarded with lots of purrs and some cash too if you let us know!

Thank you.


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Forgive often. Love always

When I didn’t love myself, I found it hard to forgive myself. It was a kind of chicken and the egg thing. I wanted to love myself, I knew it was important, But, I held myself at fault and couldn’t forgive my mistakes, making it impossible to love myself.

See-sawing between blame and shame, I measured whatever was happening in my life as being done to me. I was not to blame. Not responsible or accountable. It was always someone else’s fault. Or, I was all my mistakes and that made me one big mistake. I could never measure up.

In that place where all I was looking for was to lay blame and shame, forgiveness was not possible, making self-love an elusive dream.

Until I was willing to see my inherent human nature as a beautiful gift, to see that I am perfectly imperfect in all my human imperfections, I could never give myself the grace of seeing my mistakes as an essential and integral part of my journey. In my denial, there was no room for forgiveness and love because, well I was too busy covering-up my mistakes or too busy blaming others for theirs. In that hostile territory, there was only room for blame, fear and denial.

My mistakes are as much a part of me as the things I want the world to know and see about me.

My mistakes don’t make me weaker. They make me stronger, because in their light, the many facets of my human condition shimmer in the light of Love. In that light, I see how beautifully human I am when I give up the need to be perfect, when I am willing to let down my guard and be vulnerable.

As long as I am willing to lovingly face myself in every light, I grow through everything I do and have the space to learn to Love everything I am, beauty and the beast, yin and yang, dark and light.

Ultimately, we are not our mistakes, we are what we make of our mistakes. What we do with them. How we use them as tools to help us grow more forgiving and loving.

When we treat ourselves harshly, we create fertile ground for anger, bitterness, regret and a host of limiting emotions to fester. When we are unforgiving, we are unforgiven. Without forgiveness, there is no room for love to flow freely.

Long ago, I struggled to love myself, all of me.

Today I know that loving all of me is the path to bringing all the best of me to light. In that place, my mistakes are no longer a burden, they are part of my human journey. To enjoy the journey, travelling lightly is optimal. To travel light, I must choose forgiveness. It is the path to Love, and in Love, there is only one answer to living this one precious life freely: to Love more.  Love always.

 


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Kairos Blanket Exercise

I am standing on a blanket. This blanket is one of six spread out on the floor, each one touching the next. They represent Turtle Island, or North America as it’s called today.

I am standing on this blanket as a participant in the Kairos Blanket Exercise. I am excited to begin this learning journey. I am unaware of the power of the next two hours in front of me.

Take up all the space of the blankets the facilitator urges us. Claim your land.

There are about 30 of us standing on the blankets. We all work for Inn from the Cold, the family emergency shelter where I work.

Most of us are non-Indigenous. Some are immigrants. Others born on Canadian soil of ‘settler’ families.

And the story begins.

For the next two hours we become more and more cramped on the blankets as one blanket after another disappears as do some of the participants.

“You are a child who was sent to Residential School,” the facilitator tells one of my co-workers. And they move off the blanket to stand at the edge of the circle.

“Your child was taken from your arms,” a woman is told who is holding a doll. And the facilitator grabs the doll from the woman’s arms and puts it on the floor at the edge of the circle.

“You were swept up in the 60s scoop,” another participant is told and they too join the others standing outside the circle.

Smallpox. Other diseases. Poor nutrition. Suicide. Land appropriation. Adoption. Assimilation. Slowly people disappear from the constantly reducing area the blankets cover until only a handful of us remain on a tiny blanket in the middle of the room.

“You are the survivors,” we are told.

I do not want to cheer. I do not want to clap. I want only to cry.

So much carnage. So much loss. So much pain.

“We do not do this exercise to make people feel guilty, or to make them sad or angry. We do it to raise awareness. To educate. To share the story of Canada through an Indigenous lens,” the facilitator tells us.

It is a story not told in schools. Or text books. Or movies.

It is a story of a nation’s past where fairness, equity, freedom of all people was not for everyone, just the civilized. Indigenous Peoples were not considered civilized. They were deemed savages.

It is a story of the stealing away of an entire people’s lands, dignity, pride, way of life. Of forcing new culture over an existing one in order to make them more like us. To make them seem less different. Unique. Connected to one another.

It is told in a way that makes it possible to understand why, ‘getting over it’ is not so easy, not so possible.

This story.

I am familiar with it. I have read the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. Participated in other Indigenous learning circles. I have worked in this sector for over 12 years. In this sector, unlike on Turtle Island, Indigenous Peoples are over-represented.

They carry the scars, the wounds, the trauma of a past where their way of life and who they were was deemed unfit by those who usurped power and claimed a land as their own, even though it was already claimed.

This is my country.

It is the land upon which I was born. On which I live today.

We call it Canada.

Once upon a time, it was called Turtle Island.

Our history is not a clean white page in a book unmarred by trauma or dark deeds. It is not a history of treating everyone with dignity, fairness, respect, even though that is the history we’d like to tell.

We have this shared story of our past which we must be willing to talk about, to understand so that we can move beyond the things we don’t want to see, to create a country we do want to have, together. As one people.

A country where the past is not a shadow marred by the darkness of what was done. It is a place where all people’s know, no matter their place in the past, today we are all of one land, one country, one humanity, and one shared story.

“Meegwetch” (Thank you in the language of the Haudensaunee, the Peoples of the traditional territory upon which I was born).

 

It is a statement often made in connection with humans experiencing homelessness. “It’s their choice.”

After twelve years of working in the homeless serving sector, I have yet to meet anyone, no matter their age, who stated, “I chose homelessness.”

It is a choice that is foisted upon someone. A choice that rears its ugly head when all other choices have lead to dead end alleys and closed doors.

It is a choice that was not made willingly, and in most cases, there’s no informed consent. It was made because there were no other choices and homelessness was the only door someone could walk through that wasn’t slammed in their face.

In child and family homelessness, I have never met a parent or parents who say, “We wanted this for our children. This is what they deserve/need/want.”

Homelessness is not a choice.

It’s a lack of choice. A lack of options. A lack of doors to open, roads to take, resources to fall back on to stave off the tragedy and trauma of getting to that place called Homeless.

It is not a choice.

At the family emergency shelter where I work, we are experiencing unprecedented numbers of families coming through our doors. Not one of these families say that the reason they came to the shelter is become they ‘chose’ to.

Their reasons are many. They are complex. They are numbing.

They were staying with friends and family, couch-surfing as its called.

They were evicted because they couldn’t pay the rent. Loss of job. An illness. Family upheaval.

They were fleeing family violence.

They moved from a reserve to the city only to find the city is not always a welcoming place. There is no “You are Welcome Here” doormat inviting them into the prosperity, stability and future they seek. There is mostly a “You’re here now. Good luck. You’re on your own,” mat that leaves them confused, frightened and feeling desperately alone as they struggle to figure out ways to keep their family together, fed and safe.

The choice leaves them, as the saying goes, between the devil you know and the devil you don’t. Go back to a reserve without clean water, with inadequate housing, where the suicide rates in youth are skyrocketing, where numbing through drugs and alcohol prevails, or… stay in the city where racism, discrimination and prejudice abound. Where high rents and landlords unwilling to rent to ‘those people’ turn you away before you even get to the door.

Where the colour of your skin shadows your every step forward, leaving you out in the cold, struggling to find safe shelter for your children so that they can grow up to be free. Strong. Successful.

Homeless is not a choice.

But we, the non-homeless, do make choices that leave homelessness as the only option for those struggling to get out of the raging waters of poverty and inter-generational traumas that colonialism has wrought upon families since settlers came to this land a few hundred years ago.

Our choices include immigration policies that do not link new Canadians to vital resources to get firmly planted in the vibrant network of their new homeland. Policies that leave young mothers and their children in homes where the one who sponsored them is also the one who is abusing them. They can’t/daren’t run away because he holds the papers that give them claim to their status and right to be in Canada.

Homeless is not a choice.

But we can make different choices. We can choose to be more tolerant, more understanding, compassionate even. We can choose to not tear down existing affordable housing to build new and costly places. Or when we do, we can choose also to replace what we tear down so that those who are being displaced have places to go that they can afford. Places that aren’t leaky or creaky or not big enough to hold a family, but are being used anyway because… there is no where else to go, except into homelessness.

I have choice.

I am privileged.

But the families who come to the shelter? They do not experience the privileges I do. They do not have the agency to make decisions about where to live, or go to school, or go on vacation.

Their lack of privilege has lead them to the one place they never wanted their children to be. Homeless.

So let’s cut out the myth about homelessness being a choice and get real with what’s really at issue.

The choices we’ve made as a society, choices designed to increase wealth and the standard of living for many, have also created an environment where poverty and homelessness flourish. These are the choices that have left those without privilege standing on the margins looking for a way to the other side of the street, stranded in poverty because our choices keep closing the door to vulnerable humans seeking to find their way to any place other than that place called Homeless.