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A Love Poem A day for a year

Several years ago, my beloved lived in another city for a while. Our relationship was still relatively new and the distance a challenge.

One Valentine’s Day, when he had sent me beautiful flowers and I realized I had done nothing, I decided to send him a gift of a “Love Poem a Day” (via email) for two weeks.

I was pretty excited thinking that he too will welcome my gift in the same exuberant way it was given.

Ah yes, as the saying goes, “Expectations are premeditated disappointments.”

He was very busy working on a project and didn’t get to opening my emails until much later in the day.

On the first day I was okay with what I deemed his ‘tardy’ opening.

The second day, seriously? He hadn’t opened it by 2pm even though it had arrived in his Inbox by 6am?

Harrumph.

That evening on our daily Skype call, I asked him about his tardiness. “Louise,” he said, “I don’t open my personal emails first thing in the morning. I’ve got too much to do and just don’t have the bandwidth.”

But… and then I gave him all the reasons why his response to my poems was all wrong.

Needless to say, the call did not go well and we hung up without having achieved the one thing I wanted my gift of words to do – bring us closer over the miles.

Of course, I told myself all sorts of stories about his response and why he was all wrong, but finally, after much rumination (along with a whole bunch of inner chatter criticizing him and our relationship and how ‘fine. If he didn’t want my poems I wouldn’t write them…’) I awoke to the truth — If my intention was to create intimacy over the distance, why was I insisting on having it all my way? What was in it for me to berate him when I wasn’t behaving in a way that was not very kind nor loving. The fact was, I was not creating safe and courageous space for intimacy to grow.

I wrote him an apology poem and acknowledged that in wanting my expectations met, I had created a ‘me versus you’ situation and he acknowledged that in my expectations, he had gone on the defensive.

I started to again write a love poem a day for 14 days and started including a photo from my day that went along with the poem.

One year later, I was still writing him a love poem a day.

It had become woven into the fabric of our day, with me eagerly awakening each morning to write a love poem about love, and him expressing his gratitude for my poem — whenever he got to reading it — which was often the first thing he did each morning.

Originally, my intent had been to close the distance with my words of Love.

What happened was even more profound. In writing about Love every single morning for a year, my understanding, my ‘knowing’ of love deepened, as did our relationship.

An unexpected gift was that I also realized how my expectations often set up barriers to our being able to be real and present with each others.

Those poems and photos did achieve what I set out to do, and then, they gave me even greater gifts.

Happy Valentine’s Day. May your world be filled with Love and all its mysterious, magic and wonder.

 

 

I Will Love You Forever My Little One

My grandson turns 2 years old on Saturday.

I remember…

How his birth heralded the beginnings of an incredible journey through Love and wonder.

How suddenly, this new role of becoming his ‘YiaYa’ became more than I ever imagined it could be.

How being his YiaYa was a rite of passage into a new and deeper realm of Love. I never had to make room in my heart for him. He was already there, even before I knew him and will always be there even after I’m gone.

I remember…

How his every move, his every smile, his every sound brought joy and wonder into my world and made me pause longer to wonder about my footprint on this fragile planet, my impact on this world.

How my heart beat louder, how its rhythm of love grew wilder and how I grew deeper into the meaning of family, legacy, life.

My grandson turns 2 on Saturday. I am flying to Vancouver to see him, to bake him a cake, to share in the festivities, to sing “Happy Birthday” and to savour time spent with this thoughtful, mischievous, inquisitive soul who brings such incredible light and meaning into my world.

Because that’s what he does it, every day. Bring joy and wonder into my world with his light and laughter, his smiles and love.

I am so grateful.

I wrote him a poem for his birthday. It is my anthem for him. Part of my legacy of Love.

I wrote him a poem and then I recorded it so that he will always have the memory of my voice telling him how much I love him.

I wrote it for him and for me and for grandparents everywhere. You are welcome to share in it too.

You can listen to the recording HERE.

 

Creativity exists everywhere. Even in homelessness.

lov eholds no memory
Art Journal Page Mixed media on watercolour paper

Yesterday, on Live & Learn, David Kanigan, the blog’s host, shared a beautiful story of a moment on the train into NYC where a woman surprised everyone with what she had to say. (Go read it. David’s writing is exquisite and the story is beautiful.  Click HERE. )

He reminded me of an event we tried to launch here in Calgary several years ago in an effort to shift stereotyping of individuals experiencing homelessness.

At the time, I was the Director of Public Relations at a large adult singles emergency homeless shelter. I was also the founder and overseer of its art studio/program – and that’s where our story begins.

Creativity, the desire to spill words onto the page or cast them from a stage into the air, to throw paint at canvas, use our hands to mould clay and other objects or write music that stirs the soul is not relegated only to ‘the housed’.

Creativity does not discriminate. It flows everywhere, into and through everyone, including homeless shelters and those who use its services.

One of the collective experiences of individuals experiencing homelessness is the mocking and shaming they receive from those who do not understand the experience of homelessness.

It is debilitating. Harmful. Painful.

When visitors came to the shelter, they were always surprised by the art clients of the shelter created in the studio, often purchasing pieces for their homes, gifts, workplaces. There was always this moment when a visitor would look at the art and say, “A homeless person created this?”

It wasn’t meant to be derogatory but its unintentional consequence was that their comment highlighted the stigma and the misconceptions we hold of people experiencing homelessness — they are somehow less than human, devoid of creativity. Of grace. Of heart and soul. Of dreams. Of humanity.

We wanted to change that perception and decided to bring the creative expressions of those experiencing homelessness ‘to the people’. To those who every morning and evening rode public transit.

We worked hard (myself and another woman who was part of an initiative to support art-making within the sector) to find a way to convince the City that having individuals experiencing homelessness perform pop-up concerts on public transit, particularly the C-train and its many platforms throughout the city, was a good idea.

It never happened.

There was just too much resistance, and too many excuses why it was a bad idea from those who held the authority to give the idea the right stamps of approval it needed to be put into action.

Our resistance to shifting perceptions is harmful to those whose lives have been impacted by homelessness, poverty, addictions and other societal woes. It keeps us safe from changing, and it keeps those seeking to find change, in their place.

In the box we hold inside our minds of what it means to be ‘homeless’, we rigidly hold onto what we believe is true of ‘the other’ and lose the elasticity of thought necessary for our truth to live freely with the truth of others. We cling to labels, like ‘homeless’, as a means to keep from having to broaden our thinking to include more than just the one or two words we use to describe those whose lives are different than ours.

Homelessness is a state of living. It is not ‘who’ the person is. Everyone experiencing homelessness is first and foremost, a human being.

The presence of homelessness in someone’s life is an indication of the many things that have contributed to their finding themselves in that state — big system factors like lack of supports for mental health, addictions, poverty, education, jobs and lack of access to the programs that do exist. Lack of affordable housing. Lack of personal resiliency due to childhood trauma, divorce, abuse, deaths in the family, and a host of other social woes, we all experience, and for which most of us have the capacity to cope with — while some don’t, leaving them suffering gravely from its impacts and their inability to access supports in times of crises.

In all of it, the word ‘lack’ is prominent.

The lack of what individuals and families need to be able to thrive in society — not because they don’t want to, but rather, because the structure of so many of our systems act as barriers, not entryways. Bureaucracy and a belief ‘we know what’s best’ prevents people from gaining access to the supports they need to deal with life’s challenges.

There is no lack, however, of creativity, of vision, dreams, and most of all, humanity, in those experiencing homelessness.

There is only our lack of understanding that, when we paint people into boxes and stick labels that help us understand where we believe they’re at, we take away the very things they need to create better futures for themselves and their families. We take away their belief in their humanity.

Studies on a Heart of Gold

Heart of Gold
Mixed media on canvas paper
11 x 14″
©2020 Louise Gallagher

They say she had a heart of gold. That she always put others first. Never said no to a friend. Was always the first one you’d call in a crisis.

And then one day, her heart quit beating. Stopped. She fell and had to learn to get back up without straining her heart with the needs of others. 

She had to find the balance between needing to be there for others and needing to be there for herself. 

She had to learn how to say ‘yes’ to herself by saying ‘no’ to others first.

We extoll the virtues of the ones who are always there. Who turn up in every kind of weather, in spite of the hardships to get there, their own pain and suffering, the circumstances of their lives and the many demands they must put aside to turn up for others.

And yet…. where is the self-compassion in always putting your own needs aside to run and help another? Where is the self-compassion in putting yourself last?

Being able to say yes to yourself by saying no, to set loving boundaries, to be clear on when you can help and when you can’t, when you can turn up and when it’s just not possible, are essential building blocks of owning your own voice, of hearing your heart’s song and creating a life worth living.

Yes, it’s important to help others, to be there for them in times of need — as long as being there isn’t a habit that undermines your well-being because ‘being there for others’ means you are tearing apart your peace of mind, increasing an already precarious stress-load or wreaking havoc on your primary relationships.

We all want to feel needed. To be there for our friends. To be someone others can count on when the chips are down.

But, when we consistently put our own needs last, when we constantly turn up for others even when to do so means having to let go of our own priorities and needs or let down people we love, the question we have to ask ourselves is… In turning up for others where am I not turning up for me?

I went back into the painting I shared yesterday and delved deeper into the story it ignites in my heart.

The message that became loud and clear as I painted was one I keep returning to again and again:

Listen to your heart.

In a world filled with distractions, demands and disruptions, it can feel challenging to find the balance between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It can be hard to hear our hearts calling us to rest, to let go of worry and obligations and simply be present. It can be easy to forget to stop and breathe.

Just for this moment….

Stop…Close your eyes…

Breathe.

Slowly…

In… Out… In… Out…

Now again.

Breathe.

Slowly…

In… Out… In… Out…

Feel. The air entering your body.

Feel. Your breath flowing in your veins.

Feel. Your lungs expanding/contracting, expanding/contracting.

Feel it all. Be present in it and with it.

Feel.

And breathe.

Now… whisper to your heart, “Yes. Yes. Yes!. I hear you.”

Namaste.

 

Magic. Miracles. And Wonder

I am lying in the bath soaking up the heat and sensations of being immersed.

Thoughts float on the surface of my mind like the bubbles that surround me.

A bubble pops and a thought erupts. “This body covered by my skin is my ecosystem. When I do things, eat things, say things that impact my ecosystem negatively, I am harming my world.”

Fact is, my ecosystem is connected and dependent upon the ecosystems of everyone in my life, everyone I encounter, know, meet, have never met because my ecosystem is not an independent system, it relies upon the ecosystems of the world to live, breathe, move and thrive.”

I know. Heady thoughts while lying in the bath, but sometimes, you just gotta flow where the current goes.

We are all connected. Not just we humans, but the squirrel bouncing from limb to limb of the naked trees outside my window. The river flowing eastward. The snow covering the ground. The Arctic Vortex that covers our city in its ‘cold dome’ right now.

We and it and they are all connected. Interdependent. Intertwined. Participating in, supporting and being part of one universe.

What we do today makes a difference.

What we do with our time, thoughts, actions — it all matters. Not just to each of us individually but to the world and all its inhabitants, everywhere.

I awoke this morning. Arctic air surrounds my home. I am warm inside.

Outside my window, snow covers the ground, the river flows, trees stand naked, cars drive across the bridge towards the city centre.

I do not know exactly what this day will bring. Every moment is a moment for magic to erupt, for miracles to unfold, for the exquisite nature of life to reveal itself again and again.

I can stay open, expectant, excited by the magic or I can close the blinds and stay hunkered down inside the comfort of my home.

And as I type, I spy the unexpected. A bicyclist pedals across the pedestrian bridge towards downtown. It is minus Arctic outside and he is riding his bike through the freshly fallen snow.

I smile.

If I’d closed the blinds I would have missed the moment of wonder of his passing by.

Today, let me live with my eyes wide open to the possibility of magic, miracles and wonder. Let me breathe deeply into the awe of the intricate beauty and unexpected nature of this fragile planet upon which I walk and breathe and live my life connected to the world around me, part of the ecosystem of all.

Namaste

Belonging around the table.

Heading west as the sun rises.

We were 21 adults gathered around the dining room table(s) this year for Christmas. At one moment, while standing on the kitchen side of the island, I looked out at the guests gathered in our home and my heart whispered with a contented sigh, “Yes. This is Christmas”.

Gathered around the table, we shared a meal, toasts, tales of Christmases past, of Christmases hoped for, remembered, cherished. We laughed at stories, new and old. It didn’t matter if we’d heard them before for it wasn’t the story that made our hearts warm with remembering, it was the storyteller.

And as in Christmases past, we went around the table and each person answered the question that was written in their name cards. “What is your favourite Christmas memory?”  “What are you most grateful for in 2019?”  “If you could create a charitable organization, what would it be?”  “What historical figure would you want to include at the table?” …

We gathered around the table on Christmas Day to share a feast and to feast on that special brew of friendship, family, community and the ties that bind us.

And throughout the festivities, our home was full of voices laughing, chatting, calling out each other in the familiar way that only those who have known one another a long, long time can do, and get away with. Because, no matter the calling out, it is the threads of familiarity and love that weave our hearts together in a magical tapestry of lives enjoined across time and space, moving always closer to the heart of what matters most – belonging, community,  family, love.

Three Valley Gap – looking east.

And now, we are in Vancouver to share another Christmas with our eldest daughter, son-in-love and grandson. It is a special celebration.

Rogers Pass

As we followed the highway west, driving through plains and rolling hills into foothills and the Rockies, through towns and mountainsides festooned with snow-covered trees, I said a prayer of gratitude for my life today and those who fill it with such joy and beauty and love.

After a few days here, we will spend New Year’s Eve on Gabriola Island with my middle sister and her husband and then, we’ll take the long and winding road across Vancouver Island to my favourite place on earth, Tofino where my beloved and I will spend a few quiet days listening to the waves crash against the shore, wander the beaches and sit by the fire.

Yes. This is Christmas.

This is the table where we belong. Where family and friends gather.  This is a joyful celebration of life, of friendship, family, love and new birth to come.

Yes. This is my blessed life.

I am so grateful.

Namaste.

 

Ain’t gonna make war no more

When my father ran off to the war, he was a teenager. Idealistic. Full of adventure. A poet boy.

When he came back from the war, he was a man. Broken. Angry. Hardened.

He was not alone.

War is not pretty. It is not easy. It is not an adventure. Yet, when I see photos of my father and the other young men who journeyed far from home eager to quell the Nazi advance and bring peace to a troubled world, I do not see fear in their eyes. I do not see ‘the ugly’.

I see the belief they were going off to fight for freedom, or as a commentator on the radio called it, “the good war”. For many of those young men who headed off with their heads held high and their beliefs strong, it was a fight to the death.

For men like my father, it was a war that left them troubled and angry, isolated and silent. It was a war that left them fighting for peace from the memories of the battles they could not leave behind, just like they could not leave their brothers lying lost on the battlefields of foreign soils.

Today, as I do every Remembrance Day, I shall stand with hundreds of others and honour the boys and men who never came home and those who did after sacrificing so much. I shall lay my poppy at the feet of the unknown soldier who graces Memorial Park in the downtown core and as I lay it down, I shall raise my eyes up to the sky and pledge to my father that I will not ‘make war no more’.  Not in my heart. Not in my life. Not in my world.

My father left this world many years ago carrying with him the poet boy who never came back from war. The boy who sometimes, in the silence that the man who became my father held onto to forget all that he had witnessed, appeared in letters he wrote, or poems he sent when we lived an ocean apart. It was in those notes I felt the loss of the poet boy my father kept hidden behind his anger and his silence.

To honour the sacrifice of his youth and the man he might have become had war not stolen the boy, and the sacrifices of so many young boys who fought so that we could have our freedom today, I must pledge to ‘make war no more’. And in that pledge, commit to the peaceful path; the path of Love. It is the only way I know to honour the many who lost their lives to war.

If we could all put down our arms of war and open our arms to embrace one another in Love, then perhaps this troubled world will find the peace and harmony for which they fought so hard.

In letting the guns fall silent, we must let nothing separate us from taking a step towards one another so that we can stand, arm in arm, and make peace amongst all humankind.

Namaste.

___________________________________

When my daughters were young, we listened to this song over and over as we drove to the coast. It is a powerful anthem for peace.