Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


Letting Go

In the beginning, when I was born, I knew little.

As I grew, I learned.

Every day, I keep learning more about what I knew before. More of what I didn’t know I knew. And, if I’m really open, expansive and accepting, more of what I don’t know at all.

Like a trapeze artist suspended in that space between holding onto the trapeze which keeps her flying high and letting go to grab the next bar, my growth appears between the space of holding on to what I believe I know and letting go of believing I know the answers.

In that space between, I stretch, I expand, I seek, I grow. I flourish, I learn. I live.

When I resist, when I refuse to let go of what I believe I know about anything or everything, I rub up against the dissonance of being stuck in fear and ennui and lose my momentum until, the trapeze stops swinging and I hang suspended in my own inaction.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
˜Shunryu Suzuki

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to an international arts and literary arts residency in Italy.

I was surprised. Grateful. A little scared and a whole lot of disbelieving.

This friend is an amazing artist. Why would she believe I’d be worthy of such an opportunity?

My ‘expert’s mind’, which thinks it knows everything there is to know about me and my limitations, (it likes to repeat them often so I don’t forget) knows little about my possibilities (because my expert mind tends to stay stuck in repeating everything it knows without letting go of its limitations to explore the vast unknown).

I am letting go of my expert’s mind to allow space for my beginner’s mind to swing into action.




Does fear stop you from creating?

Work in Progress. No. 44
#ShePersisted Series

Over at Live and Learn yesterday, David Kanigan shares an expert from a Robert Ito article in the NY Times about funny-man Ray Romano.

“It’s just doubt, that’s the biggest thing.”

Doubt, uncertainty, insecurity can keep me from doing things I love.

Like painting.

I have begun working on No. 44 of my #ShePersisted series.

No. 44.

It’s taken me awhile to get to No. 44. With every piece I complete, I worry the next one won’t appear. Or won’t be any good. Or won’t ring true.

I worry I can’t paint. I’m not creative enough. I don’t have any talent.

And in my worry, I hesitate. I avoid. I ‘take a break’, convincing myself it’s what I need, even though I know, that’s the lie.

Deep within me, to the farthest reaches of every cell in my body, I feel the compelling and vital desire to express myself creatively, to dig into my creative essence and let it flow free.

And still I hesitate. Stall. Pause.

Until finally, the pressure grows so great I know there is only one way to release it.

I put brush to paint to canvas if only to prove my fears right. And in the act of proving them right I push through. My fear. My insecurity. My doubt.

I don’t know what else to do.

I know the fears and doubts are there.

I just can’t let them win. I just can’t let them own me, or worse yet, deprive me of doing something I find so satisfying, so joyful, so life-giving.

Creating. Painting. Writing.

For me, these are life-giving passions that dance an uncomfortable jig in the darkness and lightness of their ever present need to be expressed.

Giving into the darkness, I feel bereft. Empty. Defeated.

Yet, to give into the lightness, I must struggle through the dark. I must dance with my fears and turn them to the light so that I can set myself free to create, even in my fears, even in my doubts and insecurities.

The world is filled with creative soul’s clamouring to be free. Now, more than ever, as world events seemingly spiral over the edge of reason, we must all let go of our reasons to not create, to not bring our soulful essence into being. We must release ourselves from the darkness and begin to create in the light of knowing, the kind of world we need, the world we deserve to live in is filled with beauty, wonder and awe and above all, peace.




We Can All Be That Village

I am 4, maybe 5 years old.

We are living in central France. My father loves to take Sunday drives to Belgium, to the monastery, D’Orval, where the Trappist monks make his favourite beer.

I remember it is a beautiful place, this D’Orval. Serene. Tranquil. Surrounded by fields of hops and wheat. Filled with gardens of herbs and vegetables and flowers. Even though visitors were only allowed in certain places, I like to think I skipped amongst the flowers. It was something I loved to do.

I think we must have been returning from D’Orval the day my family forgot me at a gas station. They were down the road only a couple of minutes when they realized there was an unusual silence in the car. I imagine someone asked, “What’s that silence?” Followed by, “Louise, why are you so quiet?” Followed by a startled, “Where’s Louise?”

They turned around immediately at that point. Though I’m sure my siblings may have suggested leaving me behind, my mother would have worried all the way back to where they found me. I was standing by one of the gas pumps with tears rolling down my cheeks. The most likely explanation is I had skipped off somewhere to check out a flower, a flying leaf, a piece of interesting grass… When I returned from my adventures, my family was gone and I was alone.

In real time, being left behind that day may only have been a few minutes. In my child’s mind, it felt like a lifetime.

It is one of the challenges of homelessness for children. Everything feels like a lifetime. And losing all your belongings, your special places, your own room and toys, has life time impacts.

At Inn from the Cold where I work, helping children understand and cope with the trauma of homelessness is integral to the work we do of providing children and their families shelter, sanctuary and healing.

We know that the longer homelessness lasts, the greater the impact on adults. The same is exponentially true for children.

To offset the trauma, early childhood development practitioners work with children to help them develop healthy coping skills that will serve them well, at the shelter and throughout their lives. They use play and art therapy and a host of programs and practices designed to engage children in understanding and identifying their emotions, and providing them practical tools to help them find healthy ways to express them.

No one wants their child to feel lost, frightened, confused. No one wants their child to feel the trauma of homelessness. Yet, it happens. In the past 6 months at the Inn, over 250 children have stayed under our roof. As an emergency family shelter, we do everything we can to make it feel like a welcoming, safe, environment.

But it isn’t home.

And so, we must work even harder to help the children learn healthy ways to weather life’s storms as we work with their parents to guide them on their journey home. And once home, we must continue to support the children and their families to ensure homelessness does not repeat itself in their lives.

When I was 4 or 5, I got left behind at a gas station. It was just a few moments of trauma, but the ripple effect of that moment set up a refrain in my life that sometimes caused me to feel like I was not wanted, did not belong or fit in. I am lucky. I have had access to the resources and the knowledge on how to overcome those feelings so that I can be a change-maker in the world today.

Imagine the trauma of homelessness on a four or five year old. Imagine the stories they will create in their fragile minds as they try to understand what is happening to them, their siblings, their parents.

Imagine if, we did nothing.

The future would not be changed for the better and the likelihood of their being homeless as adults would grow with them as they journey into adulthood.

We can end child and family homelessness. It takes all of us working together to ensure families have access to the right resources at the right time to help them navigate life’s storms and find their way back home.

We can’t all work at a shelter, but we can all contribute our time, donate our treasures and offer our talents to help make homelessness a short-lived experience for every child who enters a shelter’s doors.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child.

It takes an entire community to raise a family out of poverty and homelessness.

We can be that village. We can be that community.





In Liberty’s Gaze.

You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom.
You can be free only if I am free. — Clarence Darrow

She didn’t know her own strength. She’d never been tested. Never been put up against man’s nature to tear things down.

No one knew what would happen when the winds of adversity blew. When the gales howled. When the hurricanes ripped through the foundations of her truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.. Give me your tired, your poor…

No one knew the measure of her strength under pressure of another’s assertions he knew best, that his truth was the righteous belief of mankind’s salvation. No one knew.

And, when the winds came, as they often do, they howled and careened around her body, pummeling her righteous stance, her insistance that she not be swayed. Her belief that she must hold fast. Be strong.

The winds screamed like a thousand banshees roaring through desert sands, a storm of idealogies cast upon the winds, swirling around her, rising up into a hailstorm of dissent, rising up with hatred and condemnation, fear and loathing. A typhoon of evolutionary calamity in the making of war that would never know peace until quietened in an oasis of calm at the sheer strength of her steadfast gaze through time. …Give me… Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…

The winds roared and she stood strong and true as she stands strong and true today. True to the foundation upon which she was built, a symbol of friendship, freedom and peace, this lady of liberty. This lady with the strength to hold fast the belief of nations and the dream of all mankind. Liberty for all. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…

Hers is the strength of a dream woven into the fabric of their collective nationhood aspiring for equality, justice, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness for all mankind. A nation of people who stand true in their belief in the rightness of all men to worship from their own separate pew. The strength of a nation that stands true to the right of all men, women and children, where ever on earth they may stand to rise up and be heard, be seen and be free. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The above is the inscription inside the base of the Statues of Liberty in New York harbour, Swan Ally Island in the Seine River in Paris and Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens. The lines are found in a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus written in 1883.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus, 1883

I have reposted this from my Recover Your Joy blog I posted it in in 2010 in honour of our American neighbour’s July 4th Independence Day celebrations.

Happy July 4th my friends!

PS — I wrote these words long before the current times. And still they ring true for me. Having since written a piece on the African term, Ubuntu — I can see the connection in all things — We are all connected. Ubuntu from the Bantu language, represents the philosophy that — “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

May we all be free together. May we all know our magnificence together. May we all be together as one human race celebrating our humanity.

Let it begin with me.


This is my Canada. Act accordingly.

At the edge of the airbase where I spent my teens in Lahr, Germany, there was a full size mirror just by the gate on which was printed the words:

“The person you see here is a reflection of Canada. Act accordingly.”

Every day I’d walk past that mirror on my way to and from high school and wonder, “What does it mean to act accordingly? Like a Canadian.”

I know that often my friends and I were louder than our German compatriots. Most of us didn’t speak German and would even make fun of those who couldn’t speak English.

I was fortunate. When we’d first moved there, my father was insistent that I attend a German school. I spent my first summer being tutored in German by Frau Klaus.

She and her husband were our landlords. Every afternoon I would walk down the stairs from our house at the top of Am Schiessrain, through our garden into theirs, past the cherry tree that cast its sheltering branches over the grape vines they’d planted in their back yard. I’d knock at the side door of their big stone house and wait for Frau Klaus to answer.

Their home was old. To my teenage mind it was ancient. It was on Friedhof Strasse, the long, winding street that lead up to the cemetery.

Herr Klaus was a stone mason. He made beautiful headstones to mark the graves of those who passed away. I loved to sit on the stone wall beside their house and watch him in his workshop. He’d show me the different marbles. The fillers he used to make the etchings he carved into the rock stand out. He’d talk about why he’d chosen one product over the other. Of the importance of honouring the dead, of always holding their memories close. I liked Herr Klaus. He was always kind and full of laughter and stories.

Frau Klaus scared me. She was stern and critical. If my skirt was too short she’d make me climb the stairs back through the garden and change. I was never allowed to wear jeans in her presence. “That is not how ladies dress,” she told me.

Once I climbed the cherry tree to see the view beyond their garden. She told me to get down. Ladies didn’t climb trees.

Frau Klaus was very particular about how I spoke her language. She would make me repeat, again and again, a certain sound, a gutteral noise so that I got the intonation just right. She taught me how to bow my head when I met my elders and say, Guten Tag, with just the right amount of reverence to demonstrate I deferred to their age.

Frau Klaus was proud of her language. Her heritage. Her home and native land.

She did not like foreigners very much, though ‘we Canadians’ were somewhat more acceptable than ‘those Americans’ or the woman who worked as their housekeeper. She came from the Ukraine. She had walked the thousands of miles after the war to get away from the Russians only to find herself in unwelcome territory years later, shunned for her foreign ways.

Frau Klaus told me it wasn’t ladylike to talk to the help but I loved to listen to the woman’s stories. I was in awe of her courage and bravery. Frau Klaus never spoke of the war, though sometimes her husband, after having had a few too many scotches with my father, would pull out a piece of war memorabilia he had stored in the back room of their house and throw it on the ground and stomp on it. “We were so wrong,” Herr Klaus would state. Frau Klaus would sigh and say, “We did what we had to do. It was the times.”

Frau Klaus liked my father a lot. She thought he was just like her. Stern and set in his ways and insistent we do things the ‘right way’. I think she liked my mother, though she sometimes wondered why my mother let me be the way I was. “It’s not her choice,” I would insist. “She doesn’t control me.”

“Well she should,” Frau Klaus would reply.

Frau Klaus believed I was too wild. Too carefree. Too unpredictable. She would shake her head in a resigned way whenever I’d mispronounce a word or get my tenses wrong and say, “Nein! Nein! Nien! Nochmal!”

And I would do it again and again if only to prove to her the thing she thought was true was false. “You Canadian girls are lazy,” she told me. “You don’t know what hardship is.”

In many ways, she was right.

We are not a land born from war. We are a country risen from an idea that together we are always stronger. We are a nation founded on the vision of creating a land where every language has a voice, where every person has the right to stand free.

We don’t always get it right the first time, but we keep working on it until we do. And while it may take a century to acknowledge our mistakes, when we do, we mean it because doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.

This is My Canada. We act accordingly.




Building a path out at The Inn

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

She arrives via taxi at the door of “The Inn”* in the early morning hours. Her two year old in tow, another child due in six months. One hand grips her child’s hand. In the other she carries a few plastic bags of belongings. That’s all she has.

She came to Canada a couple of years ago when she married her husband. His brother knew her father. It was all arranged. He came to her village to make her his bride. He’d been in Canada for several years and wanted a wife from his country of origin.

She didn’t know him. She didn’t know what the future held. But she knew that to stay in the famine and discord of her homeland would mean an uncertain and terrifying future.

Since being here she has barely been let out of their home. She cannot speak English. She has no friends. No family. No support.

At first, she takes the beatings her husband regularly doles out as part of being here. But then, he threatens her child. She cannot stay and does what women the world over do, every day, every night. She flees to save her child.

At ‘The Inn”, staff quickly kick into gear to find a translator. To create a safety barrier between this woman and child and her husband who has arrived to take them home. Though she cannot speak English, her desires are clear. She will not go.

A translator is found via a phone service. Staff work with other agencies, government reps and the translator to build a path to safety for the woman.

The Inn is a family emergency shelter. It does not have the same level of security as a domestic violence shelter and staff are concerned the husband will return. The woman, through the translator, is adamant. She wants to stay.

A plan is created and space is found for her on the second floor with the 7 other women and their children who are already staying there.

For now, she is safe.

Unless, the government steps in. Because that’s her new challenge.

When she fled her abusive husband she also left the man who was her immigration sponsor. Without him, her immigration status is in jeopardy.

Again, staff work with the translation service to find help. Legal Guidance is called in. The lawyers go to work.

For now, she is safe. From abuse. From deportation.

For now, she is receiving support. Her child is being provided early childhood development coaching to mitigate against the effects of so much uncertainty, so much fear, and the abuse he witnessed in his father’s home.

It is imperative, this work. To ensure his young mind is not permanently scarred, that his healthy development from childhood to adulthood is not impaired by the trauma, he must be given tools and opportunities to find healthy ways to express his emotions and grow into a loving man.

His mother still lives in fear and uncertainty. Will she and her child be allowed to stay in Canada? Will she be forced to leave her Canadian born son behind with his father? What is the future?

Stories like this unfold many times a month at Inn from the Cold. Families arrive seeking shelter, sanctuary, healing. They come with their children clutching a toy, their hands full of their few belongings, sometimes several suitcases. They have run out of places to go that will let them stay for a night or two. They have run out of options. They need support. Help. Guidance.

Family homelessness is not a choice. It is an outcome of diverse and challenging circumstances that lead children and their parent, or parents, to the Inn’s door. They don’t want to be there but once there, they quickly discover a place where they can sit with their children at a dinner table and feed them healthy meals. They find a place where help for their children is readily available. Where they can obtain parenting and vital life skills that will help them navigate their current uncertain times into a more sustainable, livable future.

The goal is to move children and their families out of shelter into housing as quickly as possible. When the stars align, when the right housing, the right job, income and other supports can be put in place, it can happen quickly.

Sometimes, not being able to find the right housing or lack of access to income lengthens the journey.

At the Inn, family advocates and case managers work as a team to pave the way to all the pieces falling into place so that children can grow beyond the trauma of homelessness in a family space where love, kindness, caring and support create the pathway they deserve to a brighter future.

I am in my second month of being at Inn from the Cold.

I am blessed to be surrounded by so many passionate and committed people who see a future where family homelessness is no longer the reality for children and their families.


*To protect identity, this woman’s story is a combination of several stories.