Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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When the war came.

He was nine when he remembers the war coming for the first time. It was how he said it, “I was nine the first time I remember when the war came.”

When the war came.

I had never heard it said that way. I think of men going to war. Of soldiers never coming back. But never of the war coming to me. To my family. My home. My city.

For Sam, the war came to him and his family. It came to his neighbours’ homes. To his city. His country. The war came and he hid. In a basement. All night. All day. “We’d be allowed out sometimes for a couple of hours during the day. For sunlight. To get food. Water. We weren’t allowed to play. You don’t play during war,” he said.

The second time the war came he was about fourteen. And then nineteen. “By then, I didn’t much care about the war,” he said as he clipped and shaped my hair, “I didn’t think about it. It came. It went. I knew it would come back. I tried not to think about it. It just was.”

He had to join the military. “I didn’t like that at all,” he said. “I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t fit in.”

“I couldn’t figure out why we had an army anyway,” he added. “We didn’t really have any guns. We didn’t want to have a war.”

He clipped a bit more hair. In the mirror, I watched his hands deftly wielding the scissors. His shaggy black hair. Full lips. Deep brown eyes. EArly thirties, handsome. But his shoulders are hunched. His chest curled forward, huddled over his stomach. I think of a turtle crouched in its shell protecting its soft body.

His eyes are downcast. He concentrates on his job. Stops. Punctuates a comment with his hands. The scissors snipping at air.

“They made us march. And line up. It was so tedious.” Snip. Snip.

“I was lucky. The war came back the year after I left the army.” Pause. “I’m glad I was gone from the army. I could not have killed another man.”

Snip. Snip.

“It is wrong what happened. I was just a boy. I should have been playing with my friends. Kicking a ball around. Instead, I hid out. Eventually, it became normal.”

The war kept coming back. “The last time the war came, my mother and cousins left for safer places. My father and I, we didn’t leave. It was our home. We couldn’t leave it.”

Snip. Snip.

And then they had no choice. They had to leave.

“I don’t want to be at war. I don’t want to fight. I want to get married. Raise children. Have a family.” He paused. His hands stopped moving. His body stilled. “I want to have peace.”

For Sam, war came and drove him from the arms of his family. It tore him from those he loves to send him half way around the world to a land he’d never been, a city he’d never heard of before. It took him from the sea he loves, a city, for all its war torn streets, that was familiar to him, a place he called home. It took him away and deposited him here, in a cold and northern clime.

It drove him to a place where ‘war doesn’t come’. And for that he is grateful.

I pray it never does. Come to him again, or me, or anyone I love, or anyone in the world. And I know my prayers are already unanswered. There are owars/conflicts taking place right now. I can name a few. Libya. Syria. Afghanistan. Nigeria. l know so little about war. I do not want to know more.

Perhaps, it is not time to speak out against war, but to speak up for peace. For that which keeps lives and families intact. For that which keeps us safe.

Peace.

It can only come when war comes no longer. For with every mother’s child who dies, a seed of sorrow, of anger, of hatred is sown.

War gives birth to animosity. To tears of sorrow. To future wars.

Let us give birth to possibility. To love and hope and joy and peace. Let us put down arms and for Love’s sake, let us stand up for peace.

 


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Conquering The Great Divide

I had steeled myself for the shock of arrival. I had mentally prepared myself for the cold.

And it still hit me!

After three days in the moist, relatively warm air of the coast, coming home felt like a rude awakening — even though it was after midnight.

My plane was a couple of hours late. C.C., who was originally going to pick me up at 10, had long gone to bed. I walked out of the terminal, grabbed a cab and then proceeded to say a whole bunch of prayers as we slipped and slid our way down the Deerfoot, navigating icy patches and drifted snow until climbing up Bow Trail towards the condo in which we’re temporarily living while the renovations on our new home are underway.

The cab driver’s car had really bad tires.

Note to self, before climbing into a cab, check to ensure its tires have appropriate tread to navigate snowy roads!

And now I’m home.

Back from a delightful weekend with my sisters and daughters.

On Saturday night, my youngest daughter who had flown out Thursday to spend a week with her sister, organized a ‘baby soiree’ at the home of Alexis’ husband’s mother and stepdad. With the help of Alexis’ dear friend VW and her mother and father-in-law, they created a sense of ‘one big family’ coming together to celebrate the imminent arrival of baby bean, or as he’s affectionately known in utero, Garfield.

There was laughter and teasing, friendly games of pool in the basement and lots of good food and wine upstairs.

One of the hardest things about Garfield’s pending arrival is the distance between us. Alexis and her husband live in Vancouver, on the other side of The Great Divide, almost a thousand kilometers away.

And while between our hearts there is no distance too far to travel, in physical space we are an 11 hour drive (not always advisable in the winter) or a 1 and a half hour flight.

Knowing she is surrounded by a family who loves her, knowing her friends are supportive and caring and kind, and that many of them are just a short drive away and some are also in the ‘family way’, helps ease my heart’s yearning to be closer.

As we stood and chatted at the party on Saturday night, someone suggested guessing the actual date of baby Garfield’s arrival. I laughingly told the story of Alexis’ 19 days of holding out on coming into this world beyond her due date. “I used to think it was because she knew it was the last and only time she would be 100% in control,” I said.

Truth is, I actually think it was because I didn’t want to share her with the world yet. I knew it was the last time it would be 100% just her and me.

I’ve grown since June 19th, 1986 when she came into this world.

I’ve learned to share her. To be supportive and happy in knowing she has created a world around her filled with people who love her and want the best for her in her life. People who care deeply about her well-being. Who want to share their stories with her, and share in her stories too.

As I watched both my daughters at the party on Saturday night I was reminded once again, of how incredibly loving and kind they both are. I was struck by not just their physical beauty, but the beauty of their hearts. The aura of kindness that surrounds them both.

I am so incredibly blessed. And grateful.

I may have been the carrier of the miracle that became their lives, but it is the incredible support of family and friends that have helped shape and guide and form them into the truly magnificent young women they are today.

Baby Garfield is set to arrive within the next two weeks.

In the world around us there is much happening that does not make sense, that causes me distress and unease.

But here, no matter which side of the Great Divide I stand, no matter how icy the roads or far the distance, there is only one truth to hold onto, one prayer to repeat, “May Love surround us always.”

In Love’s embrace, I know Baby Garfield will be safe, no matter how fiercely the winds may blow around him.

In Love, he and his parents are immersed in beauty, kindness, joy, harmony. And though there may be moments of tears, of strife, of discomfort, Love will carry them through.

For this grandmother’s heart to conquer The Great Divide, the only place I need to stand is In Love.


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The 3 Sisters

Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash

The last time the 3 sisters went on a trip together was 1983.

A week in San Francisco.

Sure, we’ve been together since then. Births and weddings. Funerals and family gatherings.

But just the 3 of us? Together? For the fun of it?

Well, it’s been a long time.

Though perhaps I should be more explicit.  The last time my two sisters and I shared a hotel room together was 1983 in San Francisco.

It was an experience.

I’m a wake up wide-eyed in a second flat, out the door (in those days I ran), let’s get the day started, early morning riser.

My eldest sister is a get up early and quietly, get organized in an organized kind of way and let’s plan the day, kind of morning person.

And then… there’s our middle sister.  She likes to wake up leisurely, savour the morning. Sipping coffee. Reading. Chatting. Puttering about. Taking her time to figure out what to wear, what to do, what to bring with her for the day, kind of middle of the morning not-an-early riser person.

It should be fun. Because, no matter how we start our day, we get to spend it bathed in sisterly love! How lovely.

This weekend, we’re off to Vancouver to celebrate the pending birth of my daughter and son-in-love’s baby boy. He’s arriving early. A complication in her pregnancy means he’ll be here the middle of this month, not his expected March 10.

And I’m so excited!

But first, the 3 sisters will be dabbling in a little sisterly love at my favourite hotel on English Bay.

Both my daughters will be in YVR as well meaning… The Gallagher Girls will be all together.

What fun!

Have a great weekend everyone.


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Across the Universe. All You Need is Love

I read the news today. Oh Boy.

This morning, after reading the news about a Neo-Nazis group in the US, a holocaust denial article published on a Calgary muslim website and a story about fentanyl deaths in British Columia, I felt angry. Confused. Upset.

Really? What are we thinking? How can one Neo-Nazi group be responsible for 5 murders in the US in the last 8 months? How can young men be joining Neo-Nazi groups, waving Swatsika’s and raising arms, killing their girlfriend’s parents because they convinced her to break up with him because of his neo-nazi leanings? How is it that 4 of 5 fentanyl deaths in BC are men, mostly young, mostly alone at home?

We can do better.

And I use the ‘we’ on purpose.

It is not ‘them’ doing this to themselves, or to ‘us’. It is all of us. We are all on this earth together. Breathing the same air. Drinking the same water. Walking the same planet.

But here’s the problem. I want it to be ‘them’. I do not want this crazy-making, deadly part of our humanity to be part of my humanity.

And I can’t cut it out.

This part of me that is connected to you. Connected to them. Connected to all of us. It is all part of our world.

Perhaps that is what makes me feel so angry. And sad.

We are doing this to one another, and I feel helpless.

I know where feeling helpless goes. I’ve been there before when I was in a relationship that was killing me and trying to pretend my life was not on a downward spiral to hell.

I am not helpless. We are not helpless.

But I am silent. Mostly.

What about you? Are you silent too?

Silent no more, I choose to speak up. Not against what is being done in the name of hatred and violence but in the name of Love.

I choose to speak up for Love, with Love, in Love.

With all of it.

The sorrow and joy. The grief and jubilation. The darkness and the brilliance of our humanity when we step out from behind the shadows and claim our place under the sun. Together. A place where all of us belong, not because I say so or you decree it, but because in this place of belonging, we do not hide in the shadows, fearing the darkness and the light. In this place, we know darkness and light, grief and joy, hate and Love are all part of our humanity. All belong in our human journey.

In this place, we do not shame those who disagree with us, or who battle addiction, or hold a flag that makes our blood boil. In this place we hold space for light to get into the darkness so that through understanding, tolerance, compassion, we can speak up for all humanity, not just those who see it our way.

In this place, I don’t feel so helpless, so lost, so alone. I feel empowered, emboldened, fearless in my belief that when I face hatred, anger, violence with a soft heart and strong back, no matter the news or our human condition, Love will always be my answer.

And in Love, sadness fades and I am reminded once again of the power I possess to be the change I want to see in my world.

I read the news today. Oh Boy.

All you need is Love!

Namaste.


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What do you do when staring discrimination in the face?

It is a clear case of ‘profiling’. Of targeting a group of people based on knowing where they come from.

It stinks.

Last week, shelter staff organized an outing for the families staying at Inn from the Cold’s emergency family shelter. A company has generously donated funds for field trips on school PD Days, so for this particular school-free day, the staff decided to take the families bowling.

They contacted the bowling alley weeks in advance. Reserved 7 lanes for 2 hours and on Friday morning, the families climbed onto buses and set off for their adventure.

The children were excited. The parents grateful for an outing where they could spend time having fun with their kids.

It did not go well.

When staff told me how the families had been treated I was saddened. I was angry. I was disappointed.

My feelings are nothing compared to what the children and parents must have felt. Though when one mother explained it away with, “We’re used to this treatment,” I realized there is one emotion many of the families felt that because of my privileged position doesn’t resonate within me.  “Resigned.”

I am not Indigenous. I am not a visible ethnic minority. I am not staying at a homeless shelter. I am not trapped in poverty.

For the families on the outing, all of this is true. This is their reality, as is the discrimination they face everyday, every where.

Discrimination. It’s what people do when confronted with ‘others’ who are different than their view of the world.

The 2 hour bowling fest was chopped in half by staff at the bowling hall. No explanation. Just a curt, “You can have one hour and then we’ll see if we give you a second.” When staff reminded the manager that they’d reserved a full two hours and would gladly pay up front, there was no change in attitude. The families would have to prove themselves worthy of being granted the second hour.

At the end of the first hour the shelter staff and guests were told they had to leave. They had been deemed unworthy. There was no recourse.

They handed in their shoes and the families left, only to have to wait an hour in the stairwell for the buses to arrive.

Throughout the one hour of bowling, the bowling alley staff stood at the edge of the area where the families were bowling and stared. Continuously. They rolled their eyes. Made snide comments about ‘those people’ and even went so far as to banish two young children from the lanes when they sent two balls down the alley. As one staff member exclaimed, “My son goes to birthday parties at that bowling alley. He and his friends are always doing silly things. They don’t have their bowling shoes taken off their feet and their privileges rescinded. If there’s an issue, management talks to the parents who talk to their kids. They work it out.”

That didn’t happen on Friday.

Respect. Consideration. Thoughtfulness. Kindness. Acceptance. Courtesy. Customer service.

None of those were present.

What was present? Discrimination. Racism. Mistreatment. Rudeness. Intolerance. Judgement.

And a host of human affects that do not reflect well on those employing them as a means to shame and shun people who are already marginalized and excluded from societal norms and considerations.

I wonder if the bowling alley staff have any idea how shameful their behaviour was? I’m pretty sure they don’t.

Because that’s the thing about discrimination and intolerance. Blinded by our beliefs, we don’t know we’re acting under its influence. We are simply acting out from an internal script that makes it okay to do what we believe is necessary to protect our perceived right to be judge and jury of others. And that includes believing we have the right to be who we are and act how we do, even if it means trampling upon the rights of others to be who they are.

Under the cloud of discrimination and intolerance, we don’t assess our beliefs. We express them. No matter who gets hurt.

I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and make hate and injustice go away.

I know I don’t.

Instead, I must use the tools I have available to create better.

Shaming the staff at the bowling alley will not make them more tolerant, less discriminatory.

Inviting them into a conversation where compassion for our differing opinions and points of view is present will create space for understanding to begin. Perhaps neither side will change their positions, but in the process, we will have connected as human beings in search of common ground.

And from that place, anything is possible.