Beau’s Guide To Happiness In Life

As many who follow me here know, Beaumont the Sheepadoodle writes a blog, Sundays with Beaumont — okay, paws his way through writing a blog every Sunday.

I know. I know. He can’t really type but as his human conduit to expressing his wisdom and wit (some might call it sarcasm), I do the typing and divining for him.

Yesterday, he shared his list of 10 Things hoomans can do that will really make life better for everyone (not just your four-legged companions!

And while some have already read it, I thought it worth sharing here as well — ’cause not only does his list inspire me to create better and do not harm, it reminds me to savour the people and moments that bring my life so much joy.

I hope it does the same for you too.

1.  Get moving!

Get outside. Get into nature. Go for a walk. Garden. Run. Play in the snow. The river. The mud. And don’t forget to take me with you. I like being outdoors. There’s so much out there to explore and it’s just good dawginess to share it!

2.  Stop and smell the roses.

Breathe. Smell the air. Heck, smell my fur, even when it’s wet. Bury your face in the sweet, juicy aromas of life. Sure, it can be messy and prickly. But it’s always beautiful and fruitful and full of sweet smells and reminders of how wonderful it is to be alive. Remember, you gotta BREATHE it all in.

3.  Show, act, feel, be Love.

Pet me. Rub my belly. Fuss over me. I’m a dawg. That’s what I need and it’s what you need too! Love all over me and know, no matter what, love really is the answer. Try it with the people in your life too. It really works. Why do you think I do it with you?

4.  Fill the whole canvas of your life.

Sit. Sprawl. Laze about. Let yourself sink into nothing but the pure joy of doing nothing. Block doorways. Lay in the middle of the room. Take up all the space you need to get comfortable. It’s your life. Your space. Fill it and do it often. Life looks better when you’re stretched out filling the whole canvas of your life.

5.  Chase your dreams (and butterflies too).

Chase butterflies. Dragonflies, even bumblebees. You don’t have to catch them. The joy is in the running about, chasing after nature, and feeling the wind against your skin, or fur if you’re me.

6.  Let your sillies out.

Dance in the rain. Run barefoot in the grass. Don’t be shy. Don’t tell yourself you’re too old or too proper or too whatever. You’re never ‘too anything’ (grey-haired, no-haired, young, tall, short…) to act silly and free. Kick your shoes off and feel the earth — I’ve never understood why people, and horses for that matter, wear shoes. They’re so distracting.

7.  Set yourself free of your secret hurts and pains.

Talk to yourself – which is like… talking to me. Tell yourself all your sorrows, your secrets, your fears, your dreams. It’s okay. No one else can hear you except me and I will always listen and never judge and never tell another soul. Your secrets are mine to keep. Though if you tell them to me I might just chew on them and sit them out… know what I mean? 🙂

8.  Let your happy shine, where ever you go!

Greet everyone you meet, even strangers and that barista with the tattoos and piercings and dog collar around their neck, with a big happy smile. And btw, I don’t understand why people wear dog collars. They’re for dogs, people, because we’re special. But I digress. Greet people like you’re really, really happy to see them. Try some wiggles and squirms, lick them even! Or, as you humans like to do, give them a peck on the cheek, but really, really mean it! Be happy to see them. Let your happy shine, where ever you go! Heaven knows, the world needs more wriggles and squirms and happy greetings. And by the way, so do you.

9.  Savour every morsel of life (and whatever else is on your plate)

Always, always, clean your plate. Yup. I know. Your parents told you this. Difference is, what you don’t eat, you can give to me, I’m not picky and will eat anything you don’t, and then some! (and that’s how you clean your plate while also savouring every morsel of life) Oh. And no artichokes puhleease. I don’t like the prickles. Which brings me to my final point;

10.  Follow your heart (and let me be your guide).

Only consume, buy, eat, do, speak, think, create, the things that create more joy, laughter, love and caring in your life. Be picky! Don’t settle for something just because it’s there. Make your own choices. Make your own path. Make your own waves. Remember, I chose you and you’re the bestest friend a dawg could ever have, which is saying a lot for someone who is not a dawg (that would be you). And you truly are great, especially when you remember to follow your heart. Oh, and let me be your guide.

“And don’t forget to count your blessings every day!” writes Beau, “And make sure you put me at the top of your list! ‘Cause we dawgs are true blessings in your life!”

The Promise He Could Not Keep

The Promise He Could Not Keep
by Louise Gallagher

It’s off to war with you my boy
his father said while his mother
wrung her hands and cried a silent tear.
It’s the right thing to do, to defend
your country and your fellow man.

And his father slapped him on his back
and his mother waved her white handkerchief
and they both sent him on his journey
to war torn lands far away,
with the promise to come home safe
ringing in his ears. 

And the boy, who was not yet a man
stood his ground against enemy guns
and held his own with pride as he fought
with boys just like him
as boys
just like him
fought back
intent on gaining the ground
he’d just taken
until he could stand no more
against the bullets flying
and tanks rolling
across the land so far away from home.

And he fell.
Silently.
Slipping away from the guns
that would not stop
amidst the cries of the fallen 
lying on the blood-red ground.

And he fell.
Silently.
Holding fast to the memory
of his father’s hand against his back
and his mother’s white handkerchief
bidding him farewell.

He held fast.

Until he could not hold on any more
to the memories of the one’s he left behind.

And as his last breath escaped his body
and the guns were silenced
in the finality of death
he let go of holding on
to the promise he could not keep
amidst the brutality of war.

And when the medal arrived,
posthumously, in the mail,
and his mother opened the velvet box,
she cried and fell to the ground.
And his father gently took her arm
and helped her stand and said,
It was the right thing to do,
as he dabbed her tears dry
with her white handkerchief.

His medal still sits in its velvet box
unopened beside the photo of her son
who never came home.
She cannot bear the weight of its memory
of the boy who went off to war
to become a man
and could not keep his promise.

Some Mornings…

Some mornings take my breath away.

One moment I’m immersed in typing, head down, fingers flying across the keyboard, always pushing with just a bit more force on the ‘e’ which has started sticking. Lost in thought and words appearing as I type, I look up without looking, fingers still flying and then, it captures me.

The view outside my window. The world bathed in golden autumn light. Not red. Not yellow. Not orange. An indescribable gold kissed rose that wafts and floats through the trees like a ghost on All Hallows Eve drifting through candle-lit gravestones shimmering in the light of a full moon glowing bright.

My fingers stop moving. My mind stills. I jump up, run to the deck door, fling it open as I call out to C.C. to wake-up and, “Come see!”

There is beauty in everything.

Mystery everywhere.

And always miracles.

Because, the miracle this morning is that in that one looking up moment, I caught sight of morning light in its full intensity, it’s full unfolding.

I would have missed it had I not lifted my head to consider the thought that had just entered my mind as I was typing an email to the CEO of the organization with which I’m working. I was considering the thought, ‘how do I phrase this?’ when I lifted my eyes without really seeing the world beyond, only to be awoken by its beauty.

How many times does this happen?

How many instances of beauty are missed because we’re so immersed in the doing of what needs to get done rather than the being with all that is present?

There is so much beauty in this world. So many miracles unfolding right before our eyes.

Today, I awoke and found myself embodied in nature’s sunrise, awash in life’s glorious beauty bathing the sky in autumn’s glow.

What a beautiful awakening!

The Marathon Runner

My morning tea at Mt Engadine Lodge

When my mother was alive we counted her birthdays by her number of years on earth.

Yesterday, for my sisters and daughters and I, her 99th birthday was marked with the number 2. It was her second birthday since leaving this earth February 25th, 2020. She was 97.

When she was born in 1922 in India, the average life expectancy in her land of birth was around 25 years of age (I should mention that was for the average Indian who did not live as privileged and protected a life as my mother and her siblings and cousins, the majority of whom have all lived beyond the age of 80, Of my mother’s 9 siblings, 3 continue to grace us with their presence).

When my mother arrived in Canada in 1946, life expectancy was around 60 years of age. As in so many things she did, my mother defied the odds.

One day last week, before I headed off to the mountains to play ‘Chef’ at Mt Engadine Lodge, I met a man jogging through the park while I was walking with Beaumont the Sheepadoodle.

He stopped to admire Beau and told me he and his wife were dog-sitting his son’s Labradoodle. “They’re such great dogs,” he said.

I agreed and then asked him about the running shirt he was wearing. It had a photo of a city skyline imprinted on it and the word, in big bold letters, BOSTON, printed beneath the skyline.

“Did you run the Boston Marathon?” I asked.

He smiled, touched the shirt with one hand against his chest and said, proudly, “Fifteen times.”

“Wow!” was about all I could respond.

And then he went on to extoll the virtues of staying fit, of having a hobby, of being engaged with life.

That man’s name is Gerry Miller. “You can connect with me via social media,” he told me as he prepared to start jogging again (he was on kilometer 15 of his 32 km training run). “I’m pretty well known in jogging circles and in the elder community.”

When I got home I looked him up.

Well known? How about renowned.

At 85 years of age, Gerry is the number 1 ranked over 80 marathon runner in the world (an activity he took up at the age of 58 at his son’s urging). He holds 3 gold medals and 2 silver medals in his age category and, at the time of our chat, was preparing to run the London Marathon this October — as long as they let me into the country, he told me with a big smile.

In our brief encounter Gerry reminded me of the value of ‘attitude’.

His was infectious. Exuberant. Invigorating.

So much so, I wanted to drag my running shoes out from the back of the closet and hit the trails again. But not before first googling the question, “Does running with severe arthritis in my feet make it worse?”

Sigh. The fact is, any impact sport will negatively impact arthritis.

Time to formulate Plan B.

Time to augment my daily walking with biking, swimming and weights (gently of course 🙂 ).

My mother was 97 when she left this earth. Never a particularly active woman, arthritis ate away at her body strength and agility with every passing year and though her mind stayed alert, she lived with excruciating pain. She seldom complained about the pain. She did complain about what she perceived as God’s Plan.

Often, in her final years she would ask, “Why doesn’t God take me?”

And I would reply, “Because he’s not ready for you yet.”

“I’m ready,” she would respond.

My mother left this earth ready to go. She’d been preparing for her departure for years.

I don’t know when I will leave this earth (none of us do) but I do know, I want to spend each day with an attitude like Gerry’s. Active. Engaged. Eager to take on new challenges. Excited about the next opportunity. Looking forward to the next kilometer or adventure.

Aging is not a death sentence. It is an integral part of living, as natural as breathing. We can’t avoid getting older. We can avoid getting old — in our thinking, our way of living, our attitude and our outlook.

And to do that, we must keep moving, doing and being excited about life.

The Heaviness of The Past

I feel heavy with the news. Heavy with the learning of more bodies found buried. Heavy with thoughts anticipating more discoveries.

I don’t want to be writing of this again. I don’t want to be revisiting a past I know cannot be changed, a past that has not treated Indigenous peoples kindly, fairly, humanely. It cannot be changed but it must be spoken of, acknowledged and addressed.

To honour the lives of those buried beneath the ground. To honour those who stand today above unmarked graves. To honour Indigenous peoples everywhere. To make reparations. For reconciliation.

I feel heavy with loss. Heavy with the truth.

And if I feel heavy sitting here at my desk reading the news, standing on the periphery, learning of these things through media outlets and social media feeds, imagine how heavy this history must sit upon those whose lives have been directly impacted. Impacted, not just by these recent discoveries but by generations of abuse. The knowing their people, their way of life, their skin colour, their presence here on this land where they have lived and walked and hunted and roamed for centuries before we, the settlers, arrived, has never been considered acceptable, never been tolerated, never been viewed as ‘worthy’.

Yesterday, when the news broke, I read a news story on the CBC website, It began with a warning in bold black letters:

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

And then, the article went on to reveal that 751 bodies had been found in unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.

It should be distressing. To all of us. To everyone. To the world.

It should be distressing and act as a warning. Not against the details being potentially distressing, but that we are all of us, First World. Emerging World. Third World. – we are all of us capable of such atrocities and, capable of attempting to hide the facts, to cover them up, to disavow them. To cast blame. To point fingers. To look the other way.

To not look the other way, we must read and learn and acknowledge and speak up and vow — to make amends. To do whatever it takes to ensure that our history does not remain twisted in a story riddled with lies where we are positioned as lily white settlers with maybe a bit of dirt along the edges of our past while the truth remains buried beneath the earth and the victims remain silenced by our deafness to their cries for truth and reconciliation.

We must ensure the names of those who are buried do not remain buried beneath our apathy, and fear of the truth.

We cannot bury the past. We can no longer remain silent. We must act now to change the future. We must ensure our children and their children do not carry the burden of the truth we have denied too long.

The tragedy is not just the horrendous circumstances that have lead to the truth being unearthed. It is that through our inability to acknowledge the truth and our desire to hide behind the cloak of a church and the power of a government that has refused to be held accountable for a century and a half, we are forcing Indigenous Peoples into having to unearth their ancestors.

We are forcing them to lift the bodies of their children, their people out of the ground and to mourn them while we stand by waiting for change to happen – to them.

We are forcing them to face the trauma of what we did to their loved one’s, their friends, their neighbours, their people while we stand on the sidelines and do not change.

Just as Indigenous Peoples have always had to own the trauma and the truth because we refused to acknowledge it, if we do not own what we as a nation did, our children and their children and their children for generations to come, will have to live with it until some future generation finds the courage to acknowledge and heal what must be changed so that a better future can be created for everyone.

Healing cannot happen when we stand on the edges of our own darkness defending against the truth.

We have a choice Canada. Let go of our prejudices. Our assumptions about who ‘they’ are and what happened to ‘them’ and about who is responsible and acknowledge — We are responsible. Our prejudices. Our privileges. Our belief in the superiority of our race and ways, our lack of compassion, understanding, and tolerance has led to today’s tragedies.

And then, do the heavy lifting to create better without forcing the victims to carry the load as we stand by and watch and ask… How could this have happened?

The ‘how’ is no longer the issue. What we do now is.

You’re never too old (or young) to live with Purpose. Passion. Promise.

No 49. – #ShePersisted Series – https://louisegallagher.ca/shepersisted

In the 1970s, as baby-boomer girls stepped across the threshold from teenage angst into fully blossoming into womanhood, the woman’s movement began marching in earnest towards equality. By then, in North America, woman had ‘enjoyed’ the right to vote for 50 years. Fifty years. That’s it.

Here we are 50 years after the Women’s Strike for Equality of 1970 and glass ceilings remain largely intact, equal pay for equal work remains an unequal reality and in the area of reproductive rights and birth control, we continue to fight for the right to make decisions about our bodies as birth control largely remains a ‘women’s issue’ – there are many iterations of birth control for women to explore but other than condemns and vasectomies, no birth control pill for men. Go figure.

Yet, despite the fact women continue to experience workplace discrimination all around the globe as well as horrors such as genital mutilation in some parts of the world along with a lack of access to education, health care and more, we have come a long way baby.

And there’s so much further to go.

‘Cause here’s the thing. Baby-boomer women have been leading the charge on creating radical change all over the world for generations. And we’re still doing it as we enter our Third Acts.

We may be getting older but we’re not hanging up our shingles and putting our feet up as we pass the baton to our younger sisters.

We are still making waves, rocking boats and rocking chairs and standing up for those whose voices have been silenced beneath the yoke of patriarchy and discrimination.

We’re still marching. Maybe not as fast, but we’re still marching and demanding change.

Like Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks.

Yesterday, I re-watched her 2017 TEDTalk – Let’s End Ageism. I write ‘re-watch’ because I had seen it before and remember thinking, WOW! I must remember to not buy into the stereotypes of ageism.

And then I forgot. Not because my mind is slipping (rates of dementia are falling all over North America so it’s only a slim possibility I’ll succumb). But here’s the thing. It’s probably one of my biggest fears. That I’ll lose my cognitive abilities.

Go figure. If I hadn’t re-watched Applewhite’s TEDTalk, my fear might have overtaken my common sense.

I am getting older. It doesn’t mean I’m going to fall apart, lose my independence, memory, physical or cognitive capacity. It means all of that will keep changing, adapting, evolving — as life does. It also means… I have an opportunity to live agefully — and that’s what I plan on doing.

In her energizing TEDTalk Applewhite says, “It is not having a vagina that makes life harder for women. It’s sexism. It’s not loving a man that makes life harder for gay guys. It’s homophobia. And it is not the passage of time that makes getting older so much harder than it needs to be. It’s ageismm.”

Hell ya.

So here’s to my wrinkles. My sagging skin and my lapses in memory. It’s not age that makes them hard to see or appreciate or even accept.

It’s ageism and the fact that my entire life, and yours, and all of society, we have been bombarded messaging that says, “Nobody wants to get old. Getting old is … ugly. Hard. Difficult. To be avoided at all costs (so buy our products so you can defer signs of ageing).”

Here’s to women like Ashton Applewhite who are shining a light on not just how deeply embedded in our psyche and society ageism is, but who are also putting out a call for all of us to rise up, however we can, and raise our voices and consciousness so that we no longer accept discriminatory practices, politics and policies that deem older people as ‘burdens’ on society. It’s time to reframe aging as a time in our lives to celebrate our growth, our wisdom, our beauty in all its many facets and to see it as the gift of life that makes our Third Act a time of Purpose. Passion. Promise.

I do hope you take the 11 minutes to watch the video. It might just change your life, or at least how you look at the wonders of your body as it carries you successfully into your Third Act.

This post is also in response to the weekly prompt at Eugi’s Causerie — Celebration!

A man. A brick. A morning encounter.

It is 6:30am and Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I are just on our way from our early morning walk. I turn the corner from the main avenue onto the street that leads to the cul de sac where we live when I see a man at the intersection further ahead, the one that leads into our little community along the river.

He crosses the street towards Beau and I, sees us, stops, stretches as if casually releasing a kink in his back and then turns left and slowly begins to walk along the avenue leading away from our cul de sac. He goes a few feet. Stops and begins to twist and turn his body as if stretching during a jog.

I am curious about his presence. He doesn’t look like a jogger. He looks dishevelled. Possibly under the influence. Suspicious.

I keep walking, turn into our cul de sac. The neighbour who lives at the corner, opens his front door. He is holding his cell phone in one hand as he calls out to me. “Get in here,” he says. And he waves his hand quickly, desperately trying to get my attention.

I stop and look at him. He waves again and repeats. “Get in here. Quickly.”

Beaumont and I walk into his house. His dog, a beautiful big brown lab, is locked behind a door. Barking.

Beau looks a bit bemused by it all. He sniffs and pulls towards the door from where he can hear the barking.

My neighbour says, “There’s a guy with a brick in his hand. I’m on the phone with police. I woke up to him pounding on my windows.”

Oh.

“The guy in the beige t-shirt and baggy sweatpants?” I ask.

And my neighbour keeps talking to the police while watching out his front window for the man.

“He walked away down the avenue,” I tell him. “Going east.”

He relays the information to the police.

Just then, the man in the beige t-shirt and baggy pants comes back into view, walking back towards our cul de sac.

“There’s nothing in his hands,” I tell my neighbour.

I watch him. His walk is unsteady. He steps into the middle of the intersection, bends down and scoops up the brick he’d been carrying before. He must have dropped it when he saw me walking up the street with Beau.

The man stands in the middle of the intersection. Undecided. He starts to walk further into the entrance to our cul de sac.

I go back outside. Beau goes with me.

“Excuse me,” I call out to the man. “Are you okay?”

He stops, looks at me where I stand on my neighbours front porch. He is standing in the middle of the road, about 30ft away.

“Are you?” he asks somewhat belligerently.

“I am,” I reply. “But I’m concerned about you. Are you okay?

He looks at me again. Kind of shrugs, shakes his shoulders. He starts to back away into the intersection.

“You might want to put the brick down,” I call out. “It scares people when they see someone walking around with a brick in their hand.”

He turns his back and begins to walk back along the avenue, away from me, brick in hand.

Because of construction on the main road, there is only parking on one side of the street along which he walks. I watch him toss the brick onto the street, away from the parked cars on the other side.

He turns to look back at me and gives me the not so nice high five finger before walking unsteadily away. I realize he’s probably not drunk. He is suffering from a condition that affects his ability to walk steadily.

I thank my neighbour for looking out for my safety and Beau and I walk home carrying the image of that man and his brick.

Was the brick to break in or to help him feel safe?

By his body language when I asked if he was okay, he was not accustomed to someone being concerned for his welfare.

He also didn’t like people watching him, suspiciously.

He was angry.

Belligerent.

Trying really hard to be scary.

More than anything he looked lost. Broken. Beaten down.

And my heart feels heavy.

See, that man with the brick. He was Indigenous. His black hair was tied in a pony tail that ran down his back all the way to his waist.

And yes, walking around a quiet neighbourhood with a brick in your hand, pounding on windows is not a good, nor legal, thing to do.

But, when I called out to him and asked if he was okay, he answered. When I suggested he put down the brick because it scared people, he did.

I don’t believe he was a bad man doing bad things. He was a desperate human being doing desperate things to ease his pain.

It doesn’t make what he was doing right. Pounding on windows is not a good thing to do. Nor is carrying a brick in your hand.

What is a good thing, however, is to see him through the lens of a human being, a man carrying a brick and a long history of pain and suffering that has brought him to this place where he walks around carrying a brick.

It doesn’t change that what he was doing was wrong. It does make me feel less afraid and more compassionate about his plight.

And so, I say a prayer for that man. I pray for him relief and comfort from the burdens he carries. And, I pray for him a safer, kinder road forward.

And I pray for me, and all my neighbours, the same.

_____________________________

There is an addendum to this story.

When I returned from the garden centre later this morning, the man with the brick was standing at the entrance to our cul de sac with another man and the woman who does her 15,000 steps every day walking the hill.

He had frightened her earlier by throwing the brick close to her feet and had come back in the hopes of finding his bike, which got lost sometime last night, and…
to apologize.

I stopped to speak with the trio where they stood at our entrance and he asked me, “Did you see me?” Did you see my bike?”

I talked with you, I told him and went on to tell him of our exchange.

“I am so sorry for scaring you,” he said. “I could have hurt you.”

I don’t believe you would have, I told him. I don’t believe that is your heart.

He also wanted to apologize to my neighbour at the corner but he was out, so I promised to relay his message.

“I don’t remember much,” he said. “I was so drunk. I must have passed out in the woods along the river and when I came to, my bike was gone and I was all messed up.”

And then he said, “If you ever see me drunk walking around here, promise you’ll tell me to go home.”

And I replied, “I will.”

It took great courage for him to come back and apologize. Great courage and heart.

Prayers Are Not Enough

I sit at my desk this morning, listening to the Robins calling to each other, the sweet twittering of their babies in the nest tucked in the beams beneath our deck a melodious accompaniment to this gorgeous day.

The leaves of the trees shimmer and dance against the peacock blue of the sky above. The yellow wings of a Finch flitter through the greenery. They are passing through on their migratory route north. Their song adding a sweetness to the morning symphony.

And I listen and watch and let the beauty sink in and still my heart is heavy. My spirit uneasy.

I am grateful the media continue to report on the discovery of the remains of 215 children discovered under the soil of the former Kamloops Residential School.

I am grateful the story has not been brushed over, buried like so much of the truth of what happened in those dark days of our history.

And I feel sad. Confused. Angry.

Where is the Catholic Church?

Where is the Pope’s voice of care, concern and above all, admission and accountability?

The Bishops are offering up prayers.

Prayers are not enough.

_______________________________

In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission requested funding of $1.5 million from the Federal Government to assist them in searching for what they knew to be true. There were many bodies of children buried beneath the soils of the network of approximately 140 Residential Schools that were in operation, run by churches of many denominations, across Canada from the 1880s until the final school closed in 1996.

Their request was denied.

In 2018, despite the urging of Prime Minister Trudeau along with survivors and families of the children, Pope Francis refused to provide an apology for the wrong-doings of the Catholic Church.

Today, the Pontiff remains silent on the discovery of 215 children’s bodies buried in unmarked graves on the site of a school run by his Church.

The Government of Canada has not yet offered to fund further investigations using the same technology to help find the bodies of lost children on the sites of other Residential Schools.

Let us not let their silence be a reflection of the truth. Let us raise our voices. Let us demand action.

____________________________________

Where Is The Church?

Two-hundred and fifteen
bodies 
two-hundred and fifteen
children’s lives
lost
to a system 
that did not
care
for the innocents
and treated their souls
as fodder for their own redemption.

Two hundred-and fifteen
children’s lives
buried
while they stood by
and watched
silent
as priests and nuns
Bishops and Cardinals
hid
the evidence
of their disgrace
beneath the soil
of the lands
that once belonged
to the people
whose souls
they professed to be saving.

Two hundred and fifteen
buried
while the Church remains
silent
unrepentant
uncaring.

Where are you?
Your prayers
are empty
when your voices
remain silent
to the truth
of your transgressions.

Where are your coffers
open
to support the hands
digging
for truth
for the bodies
who must be found
to bring comfort
solace
closure
to the families
who suffered so much
at your hands
holding high the cross
with which you hammered
your faith
into their bodies and minds 
to erase their culture
their traditions
their spirits
out.

Where is this church
that promised to love
all God’s children
standing
in the truth
of all that they did
to harm
these innocents?

Oh God,
how can your people
find comfort
how can they find their missing children
when your emissaries on earth
stand silent
in the soil
bleeding
dark 
with the blood
of all that was done
in your name
to steal the lives
and futures
of your children?

Is your Church missing too?
Is its faith lost
beneath the dark soils
of its past
that cannot be erased
and must never be forgotten.

Flags are Lowered. We Must Raise Our Voices.

Brandon, Manitoba Residential School — where 50 unmarked graves of students were found in 2018

When the boy became a man, he carried with him his past. Troubled. Painful. A heavy burden he could not put down even though it did not sit comfortably on his back.

As time moved on, and the burden grew heavier, he searched for ways to soothe the memories that would not lay quietly in the past.

He drank. He gambled. He took illegal drugs.

And still the memories haunted him.

He was a little boy. The day was sunny. The skies clear. A truck arrives. There are children sitting on the benches lining its flatbread. Some are crying. Some are laughing. Some are silent.

There is a man in a uniform. He clenches a piece of paper in a tight fist and reaches out with the other to grab his hand. His mother pulls him back. She is crying.

He’s never seen her cry. Never heard her yell.

The man in the uniform is stronger. Louder. By now, the boy is crying too.

His tears and his mother’s anguished cries cannot change the course of history.

He is bundled up into the back of the truck, thrust between two older boys as the truck pulls away from the only home he’d ever known.

When I meet the boy who is now the man, he is a client at the homeless shelter where I worked.

He is in his 50s. A big man. Good looking with dark, laughing eyes, high cheekbones, a barrel chest. Strong looking. He wears a white cowboy hat. His legs are bowed from years of riding a horse.

“I had a ranch,” he tells me. “Me and my boys worked the land.”

The memories worked him harder until he could no longer carry their burden and fell beneath the weight of the bottle that never left his side.

“I want them back,” he says. “Not the memories. My boys.”

He tells his story in front of a class of 11 other men living at the shelter. They are all taking a course to gain their certificates to work on industrial jobsites and in the oil patch. Part of the month long course includes a segment on self-awareness which I volunteer to teach once a week.

One of the questions I ask in the course is for each person to name someone they admire. They can be a historical or fictional person. Someone they know. Someone they’ve read about in the news. A friend. A family member.

The boy who became the man answers, “My grandfather.”

What is it about your grandfather you admire most? I ask.

“He was a proud man. A good example. He had a loud laugh that rose up from his belly and made it giggle like a bowl full of jello.”

It is when he says the word, ‘jello’, that I see the flicker of memory cross his face. It is as fleeting as a streak of sunlight in a heavily clouded sky.

His mother fed him jello when he had his tonsils out as a boy. Before the man in the uniform came and tore him away from her arms.

There was no jello at the Residential School. No laughter. No bellyful of anything but hunger and fear.

He is working hard to be a better man, this boy who is now the man. He is working hard to build a path back to his boys.

“I want to be a man they can be proud of,” he says. And then he adds, proudly. “I’ve been sober three months.”

It is not easy claiming and holding on to sobriety in a homeless shelter. Chaos. Despair. Depression. Addiction. Overdoses. Suicide. They are everywhere. They permeate the air like mist from a waterfall, clouding minds and dampening spirits.

He was determined to beat the odds. To find his way back home. To reunite with his boys. His mother had died while he was still at the school. “Her heart was broken. She lost all six of her kids to that place. I was the last to go. She never saw any of us again.”

He wanted to be sober so he could see his boys again before he died. He never got the chance.

Three months after the course ended, he was felled by a heart attack and his life was gone.

And still, these many years later, I remember him. The boy who became a man who lost his way beneath the weight of the shame of a past he could never forget. It was not his shame. It belonged to those who gave a boy memories he should never have had to carry.

He never made it back to his boys.. But in those final months of his life, he was the kind of man he always wanted to be. A man his sons would be proud of.

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I share this story today in honour of all the boys who became men and all the girls who became women and carried with them the scars of Residential School.

I share it to honour the mothers and fathers who lost their children, never to see them again.

And I share it to remind us all that our silence, inaction, denial, blindness… they are all contributors to the trauma and racism, the denial of rights, the dismantling of culture and family structures experienced by Indigenous peoples.

We do not need Indigenous peoples to tell us again and again what happened. We must stop retraumatizing the victims by expecting them to teach us what ‘went wrong’.

We know what went wrong. We did.

We must now set things right by telling our government and leaders to do the right things. We must demand changes to government legislation, policy and practices so the unalienable rights of Indigenous peoples to self-government, according to their own laws and traditions, are recognized and implemented.

Flags are lowered. We must raise our voices. Now.