Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Happy Days are here again!

Happy Days! Our wedding April 25, 2015

I didn’t realize it was ‘The Day.”  At least, not when I first awoke. Or even in the days preceding, marking time’s relentless movement as ‘The Day’ approached.

I didn’t realize what day it was as I made coffee. Sat and watched the river flow or let Beaumont, the Sheepadoodle, out for his morning rituals.

I didn’t even realize it was the day as I read the news of flooding in British Columbia. At least, not until I saw mention of the town of Langley.

And then I remembered.

This was the day fifteen years ago when two police officers rolled up in a blue and white police car and arrested the man who had promised to love me ’til death do us part, and was actively engaged in making the death part happen.

Langley was near the town where we were ‘hiding out’ as he evaded police and tried to make me vanish.

That’s when I remembered.

And I smiled.

And breathed. Deeply.

This is ‘The Day’ when I was given the miracle of getting my life back.

This is ‘The Day’ when I began to breathe freely again.

Breathing freely was an automatic response to having the yoke of fear and sadness and sorrow and grief lifted from my life by the removal of one person.

Breathing freely was the gift of knowing I no longer needed to be the ‘walking dead’.

I was alive.

What a gift.

Fifteen years ago today I was given the miracle of my life.

Fifteen years ago today, I stopped waiting for death and got busy living again.

I am grateful.

I am joyful.

I am blessed.

Life is good.

Life is an adventure.

Life is a joyful journey of happiness, peace, beauty and Love.

Life is a gift.

Namaste.


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Super Heroes are all around us!

Super heroes come in many forms.

When I joined Inn from the Cold a year ago, I wanted to bookmark my career with work that I knew resonated deeply in my heart. That way, I felt my career would make sense. That I would make sense.

I knew the Executive Director, Abe Brown, and felt excited to work with him as I admire his ethics, his passion for the work we do, and his desire to create safe, courageous work places where people feel honoured to turn up, give their best and SHINE!

I didn’t really know anyone else at The Inn, but felt welcomed from my first day.

My role as Director, Communications & Stakeholder Relations was a new one at the Inn. The Director Resource Development handled MarComm and RD and had built a solid team of exceptional people who worked hard, got the job done and created value in the team.

Like all new positions, there were ups and downs and inns and outs. People left. New people joined the team.

This morning, as I watched one of the videos the team created for Claire’s Campaign, the Inn’s annual fundraiser, I noticed that the video had subtitles so that even if you didn’t turn on the sound, you knew what was being said.

Now, this may not seem like a lot to some people but my team is incredibly busy. Subtitling the videos was not a priority, but, they took the time to do it so that the video is even more impactful.

And that’s when it hit me about super heroes.

They are all around us. Walking amongst us. Being with us even when we don’t notice them. They just keep doing their super hero things as we continue to live our lives, day to day.

So yes, this is a callout to all super heroes out there, but in particular, to the team I am so incredibly honoured to be part of. Hilary, Kara, Chris, Elizabeth, Meg, Eunice, you ROCK!

I know I don’t generally write blogs like this one but I felt strongly this morning the need to call out these super heroes in public.

See, their plates are really full. We are looking to add two people to the team just to handle the volume and to create more impact in community. To go that extra mile to ensure we reach our audience, tell our story in ways that touch more hearts and open more minds, even when there are other deadlines looming and projects to complete, is in my book not only a herculean feat, it shows commitment, passion and above all a dedication to the mission that speaks volumes about what is at the heart of those with whom I work.

And it goes beyond my team. Everyone at the Inn is a super hero. Every day they respond compassionately and authentically to the needs and wants of those who come to our family emergency shelter for support and those whom we support in housing and community. Everyday they make a difference in the world of a child, a mother, father, grandmother and their co-workers. Everyday they make the world a better place.

So yup. I’m kinda waxing eloquent about this team. But man, I am so incredibly proud and humbled to walk amongst such superheroes everyday!

HAve a great long weekend everyone. May we all find the superhero within us and let her or him SHINE!

 


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And still, she loves. An ode to my mother.

When I think of my mother, I feel tears well up behind my eyelids. My heart aches.

In August my mother will turn 96.

My mother has always been a beautiful woman. At 95 she still likes to dress up pretty, making sure her jewellry is just so. Recently she bought a big sparkly ring. I commented on its size and how it dwarfed my mothers fingers. My sister told me that mom bought it because it hides the ravages of arthritis on her fingers.

Arthritis has not been kind to my mother.

Her bones are fragile. Brittle. Her joints swollen and distended.

And still, my mother is kind. Gentle.

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” was one of my mother’s favourite adages.

She also told us to ‘broom the floor’ but that was her native French getting in the way of her English. We used to tease her about it all the time. I wish she could still broom the floor today. I wish she could walk and move with the grace of bones that do not hurt as she moves through the room.

My mother turns 96 in August. She doesn’t walk much anymore. A bad fall. Broken hip. Bones too brittle to hold the pin in place. A wheelchair is her mode of transport these days.

Yet still, her independent streak shines through. She doesn’t like being pushed. She always wants to use her feet to navigate her path.

Kindness has always been important to my mother.

It’s something we share, even though there have been times in my life when I have not been kind to my mother. Okay, maybe a big portion like all my teen years and even into my twenties.

I didn’t understand her and mostly didn’t take the time to get to know her.

I thought our differences kept us apart. Made us different. I was too busy. Too self-involved to step away from my position to find a common ground where we could see the things that bind us include our differences and our similarities.

My mother loves to cook. At least she did when she had a kitchen. Even now, when she goes to my sister’s house, she will help out in the kitchen. It’s something her three daughters share with her. A love of being in the kitchen.

My mother loved to sing. I remember her voice when I was a child. Sweet. Soothing. Comforting. I think I may have even confused her with an angel when I was a little girl.

It is something she’s passed on to me and to my eldest daughter. I love to sing though my daughters will suggest I tone it down, or maybe consider doing it alone. Alexis, my eldest daughter, got my mother’s voice. Alexis reminds me of an angel when she sings too.

My mother was very proud of the work she did. Especially her volunteering. A lifelong member of the Catholic Women’s League, she did things for others, quietly, unassumingly. She never wanted thanks. She just wanted to make a difference, in her quiet way, in someone else’s life.

It’s something she’s taught me. It’s not about doing ‘the big things’. It’s about doing all things with grace, love, care.

My mother turns 96 this August.

Her hands are ravaged by arthritis. Her body riddled with pain, the arthritis searing her joints with its incessant clawing away at the bone.

And still, my mother is kind, gentle, caring.

And still, she loves.

And still, she loves.

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there. May kindness light your path. My love fill your heart.

 


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The art of transforming our human condition

We live in a world of comparisons. A world where one state of being is measured as better than another simply because of how much one has, or doesn’t have. Where we assume others want what we have because what we have is better than what they’ve got.

Two years ago, my eldest daughter, Alexis, was hired by The Vancouver Opera to facilitate weekly writing workshops at The Kettle Society – a non-profit in Vancouver that provides housing and support for individuals with lived-experience of mental illness, homelessness, and addiction.

For the past two years, she has worked and written alongside people for whom their uniquenesses are considered unwanted differences in a world full of comparisons, leaving them feeling like an ‘other’, an outsider, one of ‘those people.’

On Friday night, I attended the opening performance of Vancouver Opera’s “Requiem for a Lost Girl“. The inspiration behind Requiem is Onalea Gilbertson, a beautiful human being who has dedicated a large portion of her acting and musical career to creating art that bridges the gap between ‘us and them’, creating a world of possibility where the comparison of my state versus yours does not leave one of us feeling less than or ‘other’.

It is not an easy path.

On Friday night, as I sat in the darkened theatre and witnessed the courage and compassion of the 25 members of the Kettle Creek Society read and sing their contributions to Requiem, I felt immersed in the beauty and wonder of our human spirit. I felt hopeful.

Requiem began its journey when its creator, Onalea Gilbertson was just a teenager. In 2009 when Onalea walked into my office and announced, “I want to start a singing group, here.” (the ‘here’ being single adult’s homeless shelter) I couldn’t say no. She had such passion, enthusiasm and heart, and, as I believe we can connect to, heal and restore our sense of self through the arts, I quickly agreed to support her.

For the next year, I watched in awe as Onalea opened space for clients at the shelter to delve into their creative essence and explore their human condition within the context of, not just a homeless shelter, but living in a world of comparisons where your differences mark you as ‘less than’ in our world.

The resulting production of “Two Bit Operation”, the genesis for Requiem, was transformative.

Over the past two years I have lived in awe of my daughter as she navigated creating safe and courageous space for writing and self-expression at The Kettle Society.

On Friday night, I witnessed the outpouring of courage, talent, compassion, humour, honesty, vulnerability that was engendered through the workshops she held alongside the choir workshops held by VOS, and I was in awe. As someone with the Vancouver Opera, the sponsors and funders of the workshops said to me on Friday night, “This whole process has been transformative.”

Throughout the lobby of the theatre where Requiem was held, there was a display of the writings created over the course of the past two years. One person wrote, in answer to the question, “What did being part of Requiem mean to you?”, that they were glad they didn’t let their fear hold them back from participating. Another wrote that they had been searching for something all their lives to help them understand their life, and ‘this’ [being part of the choir and writing group] was that something.

We live in a world of comparisons. But, when I witness the human condition shining with such fervor and authenticity as I did on Friday night, I am reminded of the limitations of comparisons.

When I let go of comparing Requiem in Vancouver versus Calgary 8 years ago, what remains is the beauty, the courage, the heart of everyone who participated. From the professional performers to the non-professionals, from the stagehands to the organizers and all the audience participants, no one left the theatre untouched.

And that is the power of the arts.

Through the arts we can delve into difficult subjects, explore ‘us and them’ to discover there is no comparison to the human spirit expressing itself fearlessly, courageously and authentically.

Kudos to Colleen Maybin and the team at The Vancouver Opera for having the courage to take-on such a production. Kudos to Onalea Gilbertson for having the persistence and brilliance to continue to bring this work into the world in cities everywhere. And, kudos to my daughter for having the compassion and heart to step into this creative space so that others could find their voices and let themselves shine.

Namaste.

 


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Steps to End Homelessness – Thank You Suzanne West

We laughed. We savoured the sunshine and warm spring air and then we climbed.

167 stairs in total. Each set.

Beaumont and I completed 8. I was going for 10 but the heat was getting to be too much for him and by mid-afternoon, I called it quits.

Others kept climbing. Some did 50 sets. Others even more. From small babies in backpacks to seniors, we climbed for a cause and in memory of Suzanne West, an amazing woman whose vision and passion for ending child and family homelessness lead to the creation of Steps to End Homelessness nine years ago.

April 26th would have been Suzanne’s 53rd birthday if cancer hadn’t cut her life short on March 6th of this year. Last year, the 8th annual Steps to End Homelessness in support of Inn from the Cold attracted over 400 climbers. We’re pretty sure we surpassed that number yesterday.

One of the climbers shared his story of having run the stairs with Suzanne for months, training for Steps two years ago. On the day of the climb, he didn’t feel well but pushed on. Halfway up one set he stopped to catch his breath and thought he might have to quit. By the time he reached the top, he felt weak, dizzy and physically ill. He called it quits, walked to his car, got a few blocks away before realizing he couldn’t drive any further.

He carefully parallel parked his car, (I’m an engineer, he told me, I had to parallel park properly), opened his door, fell out of the car and broke his wrist. He crawled to the front bumper where two women saw him, dialed 911 and got help from the school nearby.

He’d had a massive heart attack.

“I died twice on the way to the hospital,” he said yesterday after completing his second set of stairs. “I bawled all the way up.” He took a sip of water, eyed the stairs and said, “It’s taken me two years to get back here, but I had to do it for Suzanne.”

High and imposing, the wooden staircase serpentines up the side of the McHugh Bluff connecting Memorial Drive to Crescent Heights above.

Years ago, when I ran half and full marathons, I’d run these stairs again and again. Now, I pace myself. Or at least I try to, but with Beaumont straining on his leash tied around my waist, it’s hard to go slowly. He’s determined to reach the top. I don’t run back down the stairs. It’s hard with a dog and the crowds on the stairs to go down, not to mention my knees are not fond of it either! We take the pathway along the top of the ridge and follow the trail down.

Like the hundreds of others who climbed for the Inn yesterday, we raised $1 for every set. Though I did claim senior status as I’m 65 this year. Which means, my sets = $2 and Beaumont’s = $1. Pregnant moms also raised $2 per set with dogs, adults and children raising $1 each.

It was a day of fun, laughter, sweat and for some, tears. Like the man who’d had a heart attack two years ago and the family and friends of Suzanne West who came to cheer everyone on and to welcome the climbers and thank them for their efforts, it was also a bittersweet day. Suzanne is gone. Her legacy will live on.

Yesterday, several hundred Calgarians came out to honour a woman, to celebrate her life and keep her dream of ending child and family homelessness alive.

It was a great day.


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I carry the river’s music with me

Living at the edge of the river, I am conscious of its flow.

Winter snows are melting further to the west. The mountains are casting off their snowy blankets and fields are drying out. The waterways are swollen with the fullness of spring run-off.

There is flooding in other communities in southern Alberta. I watch the river beside our home intently.

In 2013, this broad stretch of water flooded. It flowed over the homes to the west of us covering the neighbouring community in dark and murky water. A neighbour tells me it reached our fence line, and while they were without power for four days, and the street was evacuated, there was no damage to our homes which stand on a bluff 8 feet higher than the other side.

I watch the river intently.

I see the difference in the height of the waterline against the buttresses of the bridge.

There is power in the river.

I love its flow. The gentle lapping of each ripple flowing ever eastward towards Hudson’s Bay far, far away.

In the mornings after my walk with Beaumont, I stand outside our door and listen to the river below. It sounds happy,like it is singing a song of greeting for the morning. Music to start my day.

I carry its music with me.

I live along the river. It is a beautiful place. Serene. Peaceful. There are two bridges not far away. The closest carries people from one side to the other, the further one, traffic. And though the bridge is not far away, the noise is never enough to drown out the sounds of the river racing along its course.

There is always music in the river.

I carry its music with me.


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O’ Canada O’Canada. Where has all our innocence gone?

O’ Canada. O’ Canada.

Your news is heavy. Tragic. It sits, restless, in my heart, stirring up grief and sorrow, fear and pain.

Unsettled in its presence, I yearn for those days gone by when thoughts of cars careening into crowds of people walking innocently along a sidewalk on a sunny spring day do not crash into my peace of mind.

I yearn for those days gone by when I did not fathom the darkness that could arise from the depths of our human despair yearning to destroy one another through acts, so horrific, I struggle to fathom how one man could do such a thing.

I do not understand these times, no matter how hard I struggle to make sense of unraveling the senselessness of rampaging along a city street where once I walked, long ago.

I do not know how to measure my feelings amidst the storm of fear and sadness that washes over me when I see the pictures, read the stories of innocent human lives lost to one man’s decision to drive into their springtime wanderings unbidden, unwanted, unseen.

O’ Canada. O’ Canada. Where are we going in this age of unreasonable acts that destroy lives at the intersection of here and now yearning for the there and then of not so long ago.

O’Canada. O’Canada. Death is a final act. To take a life you must have given up completely on your own life. Yet still, the one who did this lives, despite himself.

Will he carry the grief? The sorrow? The horror of knowing what he has done has irrevocably altered the path of
his victims, their families and friends?

Will he look back on what he did and cry out in despair? Will he feel the burden of his acts that lead to such devastation?

Will he mourn with the rest of his countrymen and women?

I mourn for thee O Canada. I mourn for our innocence lost. Our citizens gone. Our world changed.

I mourn for this man who in his darkness created a world of darkness all around.

I mourn and carry my grief, heavy, like a flag bearer marching to the beat of an unseen drummer. I hold my back straight. My head high. You will not bend me. You will not destroy me. I will not succumb to the fear you would embed within my heart. I will not give way to your terror.

Slowly, I walk searching for the way back to Love.

O’ Canada. O’ Canada.

I cry for the fallen and stand on guard for thee.

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My heart cries out in sorrow for the lives lost and the families who are missing their loved ones or sitting by the bedsides of those who were injured in yesterday’s devastating tragedy that began at Yonge and Finch in Toronto.

Globe and Mail article

CBC article