Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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When we don’t take action, children’s lives are at stake.

I felt my heart break yesterday.

It took just a glimpse of baby clothes hanging from a rail. A box of infant diapers in a box and I felt the piercing melancholy of sadness and sorrow sear my heart.

It happened at work.

I was giving a tour of one of the the emergency shelter floors at Inn from the Cold. One of the amazing frontline shelter staff had just finished telling the visitors about the shelter floors, when he shared the story of a mother who had given birth the day before. “She’ll be back tomorrow,” he said.

Staff had prepared a welcome home package for her and her infant.

But a shelter is not a home, my heart whispered. A shelter is not home.

I walked our visitors through the shelter area and when I came to the cubicle where this woman will return to with her baby, I paused. And that’s when I felt my heart break.

Hanging from the railing of one of the bunkbeds in her cubicle was a baby sleeper. It looked so sweet and innocent. So precious and full of possibility.

And she is returning with this precious being to a family emergency shelter.

I wondered if she was afraid. Scared. Worried that she was bringing this child into such an uncertain future.

Yes, she knows we are doing our utmost to ensure she and her children are connected to the right resources to be able to move beyond the shelter quickly. And yes, she knows, just as we know, this housing crisis she is experiencing is only a temporary space in her journey. But she must feel fear and anxiety. She still must feel lost and frightened, worried for her child and the future.

I lay in bed this morning thinking about this mother and her infant. Beside me, my loving husband slept peacefully. Between us, Marley the Great Cat lay stretched out snoring. And on the floor at the end of the bed, Beaumont the Sheepadoodle slept soundly. Outside the open window, darkness was turning gently to light, distant traffic hummed as the city awoke.

I lay safely enveloped in my bed, breathing deeply into my ‘love bubble’ as I like to think of my early morning laying awake before I get up time.

And a tear trickled silently down my face.

What of this woman and her child?

What of the other three women who gave birth last week?

What are they feeling?

I felt anger rising within me.

We at the community level do everything we can to ease the burden of homelessness on each family’s life. We work hard to ensure we have the right resources, right supports, right people in place to help each family as they enter our doors. We do not want anyone to become trapped in homelessness and do whatever it takes to support them on the journey home.

The average length of stay at the shelter is thirty-five days. It’s not a long time, but in the eyes of a child, it can feel like forever. In the arms of a mother holding her newborn child, it can feel like a life sentence.

National plans are made and provincial plans follow and still the money does not flow. Land is set aside, architectural designs are created and still communities lobby against the housing that will end the crisis in so many lives. Agencies on the ground wait for the green light to get building, to get moving people out of homelessness back home and still, there is not enough of the right housing with the right supports to move them into.

Pundits talk about big picture planning and taking the long view of how best to alleviate the crisis in affordable housing in Canada while children and families keep knocking at the door of the shelter hoping it will open. Hoping a way home will appear.

We do not, cannot, turn a family away.

There are lives at stake. Fragile minds in development.

To turn children away is to risk the very future of our country.

So we do what we can. And it is not enough.

We must stop talking about the crisis in affordable housing and get building. We must stop talking about the need for guaranteed income as if it’s a drag on the economic report card of our country and see it through the lens of giving vulnerable families the stability they need to build brighter futures for their children.

We must stop looking at the agencies doing the heavy lifting at the front lines as the ‘last resort’ and see them as the only resort families have when facing a housing crisis — not because that’s what they planned for — but rather, because we as a country, as a society, have not planned well for this future we are living today where social and economic inequities keep people trapped in poverty.

The children and families who come to our door didn’t plan on being at the shelter.

But we, the society and community in which they lived, sure did plan on having the shelter there to catch them.

Let’s stop looking at how to catch people when they fall and start building the system of care that takes care of people so they don’t fall.

Namaste.

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The past can trap you or free you.

We all have trigger events. Those moments in time that lurk in memory, stirring up emotions and feelings and thoughts of what might have been, if only, if possibly, if….

For me, one of those trigger events was the day a blue and white police cruiser drove up and two officers got out and arrested the man who was actively engaged in trying to end my life. For several years after that May morning, I would begin to feel the stir of memory calling me, tugging at me, rippling through my thoughts. I would notice my emotions rising to the surface, tears on call, eager to spill out. I would feel anxious, edgy, like anything and everything was too harsh, too bright, too loud, too real, too much.

And then, the day would come and I’d move through it and life would go on. My moving through it wouldn’t always be graceful, in fact, in the first years after that event, my moving through it was often disjointed, filled with tears and sometimes irrational responses to everyday situations.

It was okay. I had to give myself the grace of moving through it in my way — honouring my sorrow, my grief, my fear so that I could come back to the truth of what was real for me that day, in the present. I was alive.

Over time, I came to appreciate trigger points. To view them as opportunities to heal the spaces where unease lived. I came to see them as gifts and to be grateful for the opportunity to heal through them by not avoiding them.

Trigger events come from moments where we have felt extreme joy. They come from moments where we have felt extreme fear, pain, loss.

The joyful ones we make okay to celebrate. Anniversaries. Birthdays. Graduations. New jobs. New beginnings.

The sorrowful ones, the ones that scared us, hurt us, caused us pain, sometimes we try to ignore them, or pretend they’re not real.

But they are.

Very real. Very important to acknowledge, if only because they stir up our emotions and can cause unease and disquiet within if we do not let them out.

What we resist, persists.

When we try to ignore these trigger points, or pretend they shouldn’t matter, or tell ourselves we should be over it and just get on with it, we are denying our hearts and minds the opportunity to face our angst and heal through it.

Emotions buried alive never die.

Emotions allowed to flow, free us to be present in the moment.

For the first few years after I got my life back, I consciously chose to treat myself gently when trigger points awoke. To give myself the tender, loving care I so desperately needed, and deserved.

I couldn’t change the experience of having gone through that relationship. I could change how that experience held onto me today.

And to do that, I had to acknowledge that May 21 was not just any day. It was a day to remember how lost I was, and today I am not because a miracle drove up in a blue and white police car and set me free. I needed to feel it all. To cry. To laugh. To express my anger (lovingly) To live. To Love. And most importantly, to give thanks.

It’s been fourteen years since that police car drove up. I still treasure the miracle of its arrival. I still give thanks for my life today.

I don’t tend to mark the day anymore. Some years, the day arrives, and leaves, before I even notice.

Getting to this point where the day, and those events, no longer trigger eruptions of unease and angst within me required patience, self-compassion, and Love.

It has been a process of acknowledging what was, accepting what cannot be changed, and celebrating what is true each and everyday.

I am free. I am alive. I am grateful.

I cannot change the past. I can give thanks for my beautiful life today.

______________________________________________

JM, this one’s for you my friend. May you know you are loved, safe and cherished.  I am so grateful you are alive!


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In the art of creating

I had forgotten and in my forgetfulness did not realize how much I was missing, how much the lack of its presence was impacting my daily living.

And then, I stepped in front of the canvas. I stood and breathed and held myself in that space where time floats away and all that is left is the moment now, the moment of creation.

I had forgotten.

That moment where I become one with being present, one with the moment, one with the muse.

And then, I let go my fear and found myself in that place where in fear’s presence love flowed fearlessly into my being part of its flow.

And I remembered.

I remembered the joy, the bliss, the grace of letting go of fear and surrendering to the muse calling me to create.

And in my remembering, I fell.

Into the art of creating for the sheer joy of creating. For the utter bliss of being one with the paint flowing, the canvas calling, the brush strokes appearing effortlessly, fluidly, simply. With the thrill of experimenting, creating, allowing, letting whatever will be to be.

I fell

and became part of the flow

one

with the muse

all in

in Love.


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Do you practice happiness?

Do you practice happiness?

You know, consciously cultivate that space within that no matter what is happening in the world ‘out there’, within you, your heart is at ease, your mind peaceful, your body content?

It’s important to practice happiness.

According to the Mayor Clinic, we have to Practice. Practice. Practice. For some of us, happiness levels are naturally set at a higher level. Regardless of where your happiness level is set, you can up it by consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude, deep appreciation of all things and people in your life, maintaining an optimistic point-of-view, finding and living your purpose and living in the moment.

People who have wealth, beauty or less stress are not happier on average than those who don’t enjoy those things. The happiest people are those who practice the cultivation of choices, thoughts and actions that lead to contentment, gratitude and joy. People who practice happiness, no matter their circumstances, are happier. It’s all about your life choices.

This weekend, I practiced happiness through the pursuit of gratitude and compassion, which, according to Dr. Amit Sood of the Global Centre for Resiliency and Well-being and StressFree.org, is the path to happiness.

One of the easiest places for me to practice gratitude and compassion, and thus happiness, is at the park with Beaumont, our two year old Sheepadoodle. His antics, his pure joy never cease to cause me to laugh and to feel light of heart. And consciously picking up his bio-deposits as well as those I come across that others have missed, creates a sense of compassion for the world and my environment. Bonus points on the path to happiness!

For me, another place where gratitude and compassion infuse my entire being with a sense of joy and peace is in the kitchen preparing a meal for guests. On Sunday, I spent the day preparing a meal for family and friends, while C.C. and my youngest daughter, her partner and his father, were at the Shaw Charity Classic Golf Tournament. It was double/double doses of gratitude and compassion. I got to spend the day doing something I love, preparing dinner and setting the table in preparation for guests, all the while knowing my beloved was doing something he loves, watching golf with people he loves. Later, as ten of us sat around the dining room table laughing and sharing stories, I felt the pure sweet nectar of joy filling my heart.

And yesterday, I spent time in my other happy place, my art studio. I painted and listened to music, danced around and laughed as Beaumont kept trying to climb up into my lap whenever I took a break in the easy chair in the corner or sat down in the pink chair to draw at the table.

On my gratitude list last night I wrote, 10 Things I am grateful for this weekend:

  1. Spending time with my dear friend KP chatting about life and the creative process over a delicious meal she had prepared.
  2. Date night with my beloved.
  3. Walks in the park with Beaumont and C.C.
  4. Beautiful weather.
  5. Spending time in the kitchen cooking for family and friends.
  6. Gathering around a table set with candles — because it gets darker earlier I get to use twinkly lights and candles!
  7. Chatting at length with  my eldest daughter on the phone. I love our heartfelt conversations.
  8. Creating. Creating. Creating. Time in the studio.
  9. Standing at the ridge above the river and taking in the beauty and the view.
  10. Ending each day in bed beside my beloved.

 


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The Good Thing Harvey Washed Away

When the rains started falling in Calgary in 2013, we had time to get people to safety. My daughter and her roommate were evacuated along with 100,000 other people. I spent a couple of nights volunteering in an emergency evacuation facility while my daughter helped clean out people’s homes.

It was a devastating time. Yet, the one thing the rain’s and flooding could not wash away, was our human spirit, our desire to be One, our human instinct to come to the aid of each other.

When I read Angelia’s blog, when I saw the photos she shared, I was reminded of the greatest of our shared humanity and the power of our human condition.

Please take the time to read her words and the photos she shares. Please consider donating to relief efforts- you can do so through http://redcross.ca

I stand with you Angelia and Texas.

My Best Laid Plans

There’s not much in the world I can truly say I hate. But I hateHarvey.

We have been sitting here for more hours than I can begin to count being brutally lashed by his seemingly never ending fury. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t scary…terrifying…at times, but we are among the lucky ones. We are safe and dry.


Harvey has taken so much from so many. Homes, lives, hopes, jobs–all washed into the Gulf of Mexico by his relentless anger. As the horrifying images and desperate needs flash across my screen in endless and quick succession, I sit here with tears in my eyes. Where do you begin? I have never felt so helpless. My neighbors are in dire straits and I can’t do anything but pray. It’s a terrible feeling.


Pregnant women and their toddlers stuck on roofs waiting hours upon hours for…

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Helping out our neighbours is easy, and it makes a difference.

In 2013 Calgary had a devastating flood that displaced 100,000 people and destroyed 100’s of homes and other buildings.

Talking to a friend recently, they mentioned how out of sorts they’ve been feeling. How they cry at the drop of a hat and can’t stop watching CNN. “I can’t stop watching the flooding in Houston, even though it makes me cry and feel angry,” they said.

It makes sense. In 2013 their family lost their home to the flood. They’ve rebuilt it but every spring run-off, they feel the fear, the anxiety, the tension of waiting to see how much rain Mother Nature will deliver.

That anxiety is present now as they watch the news out of Houston.

It is horrific. Sad. Heart-breaking.

And I sit, dry and safe, thousands of miles away wanting to do something.

I can’t get on a plane and fly down there to help out in flood relief.

I don’t have the resources to load up a semi-trailer full of supplies to drive down there and deliver hope, support, and the much needed necessities.

There is something I can do.

“I couldn’t do anything during the floods here except focus on cleaning up the mess and rebuilding,” my friend said. “At least this time, I can do what so many others did when we needed help back then. Make a donation.”

What about you?

Are you feeling helpless, anxious, wanting to do more?

It doesn’t take much. And it’s really easy to do, even from Canada. MacLean’s Magazine has a listing of ways everyone can help victims of the flooding.

It’s a small, small world we live in, and we  all need to help our neighbours in times of need.

In 2013 I could get involved in relief efforts because I lived in the city. The distance should not keep me from helping out now. Please, consider donating whatever you can to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. I know for me, the minute I pressed the donate button, I felt better. I had done something to help out my neighbours.

 


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Worthy cause. Hopeless case. What’s the difference?

Some time ago, as we entered the city on a drive back from the mountains, we stopped at an intersection waiting for a red light to turn green. On the cement divider between east and west traffic a young woman stood, hat in hand, looking for handouts. She smiled. She waved. She greeted people with shouts of, “Hey! It’s all for a good cause.” And, people complied. They rolled down their windows and tossed their coins into the bright orange cap she extended towards them. The light turned green and everyone continued on their way feeling good about themselves. They’d supported a good cause.

And they had. It was a worthy cause. Parked on the grassy corner of the intersection, the big blue and orange organization’s van was plastered with banners encouraging people to Give to the Cause. Volunteers leaped up and down, cheering, waving at the passing cars, encouraging those at red lights to open their wallets and support the panhandlers walking beside them. Drivers honked their horns. Waved. Called out cheers. It was a lively intersection filled with purpose — and a cause.

On another corner, a homeless man walked between the waiting cars at the red light, a handmade cardboard sign held up against his chest. “Please help. Homeless. Hungry. God Bless.” The drivers stared steadfastly forward, watching the light, wishing it would turn faster so that they could get away from this sign of decay in our society. No one rolled down their window. No one smiled at the scruffy-looking, dark haired, bearded man as he shuffled along the roadway, asking for help.

On one corner, a worthy cause. On the other? A hopeless case? Undeserving drug-addict breaking the law?

One deserves our support. What about the other?

Yes, the funds raised to support research into finding cures for horrible diseases are important. But what about their tactics? By mimicking the methods used by vulnerable individuals, are they not legitimizing the very tactic we deplore? The one police hand out tickets for to deter the unacceptable practice of panhandling?

Someone empties their car ashtray on the street and drives on, leaving behind their garbage. We don’t give a lot of thought to their passing by other than to possibly mutter under our breath, “some people’s children” — or words to that effect. We sweep away the garbage and continue on with our day.

A  person experiencing homelessness leaves their garbage on the sidewalk and disappears from our sight. We gather up all signs of their passing by and sweep away their unsightly mess. We’ve got a lot to say about what they’ve done. A lot of names to call them. But hey! What can we do? They’re just the homeless, good-for-nothing, lazy drug addict. They’ve made choices. It’s all their fault. Why can’t they get a job or at least clean up their own garbage?

Watching two different scenarios on the street unfold I found evidence of the thin line that divides us. We’re all human beings. We’re all under stress. We’re all capable of magnificence. We’re all worthy of a chance to make a difference — and we are all guilty of labelling difference-making both positive and negative.

Sometimes, what we do is not that different. It’s just the label we attach to our efforts that legitimizes what side of the street we’re on. Good cause. Hopeless case. It’s all in our perceptions.