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.

More Than Just a Lost Boy

In school, I vaguely, and I mean vaguely, remember learning about Sir John A Macdonald. Sir Wilfred Laurier, Langevin and the other ‘Founding Fathers of Confederation’ as well as the Davin Report, the full name of which was, Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds. (Source)

I vaguely, and I mean vaguely, remember learning about how the Davin Report set the path for the assimilation of children into the Euro-centric culture of Canada’s founding fathers. It proposed a cooperative approach between the Canadian government and the church to implement the “aggressive assimilation” pursued by President of the United StatesUlysses S. Grant.[29][28]:1.

I remember vaguely, and I mean vaguely, photographs of the painting above. it is a recreation of an original painting by Richard Harris that hung in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa from 1884 to 1916 when it was destroyed in a fire that also destroyed the original Parliament Buildings. In 1964, Confederation Life, an insurance company, commissioned artist, Rex Wood, to recreate the original painting to be presented in honour of Canada’s Centennial. In the recreated version, three figures, who had not been considered Founding Fathers in 1883 when the original painting was commissioned, were added on the right.

I remember vaguely, and I mean vaguely, having to re-enact in some elementary school class, the negotiations, the haggling, the political maneuverings needed to get signatures on the bottom line of The British North American Act, Canada’s constitution.

I know, and I mean know, I did not ask, where are the Chiefs in this painting? Where are the First Nations people who were the first to inhabit these lands? Why were they not signatories? Why aren’t they in the painting?

I also know, and I mean know, whatever I learned about ‘assimilation’ it was framed in the language of the founding fathers, because I know, and I mean know, I never thought to ask…

What about the children? What about the residential schools?

What about the attempted annihilation of those who walked these lands, who hunted and planted, who gathered and raised families and had their own system of governance, who built canoes and lodges, who knew the medicinal values of all the plants and could heal broken limbs and festering sores with their knowledge rooted in the forests and lakes, the mountains and rivers of this land and who had lived here for centuries long before white man arrived?

I know this because I know that I was never taught about the residential school system when I was in school. I was never taught to question the purpose, value and impact of assimilation.

I could not question what I did not know.

My education into the harm done by the residential school system began in the 1990s when I began working on a project with a group of street-engaged teens. We were writing a play together. Its purpose: to build a bridge from street life to main street. To give those who did not know, an opportunity to learn more about something they did not understand – -street life.

Several of the teens involved in this project were Indigenous. Like the other young people involved they were thoughtful. Articulate. Passionate about the project and committed to using it as a vehicle to reach other teens to let them know, street life is not the solution. It is a road to more pain and suffering.

I was involved with this project for three years. In the second play we wrote there was a young man involved, I’ll call him Chris, who had run away from a reserve in Saskatchewan.

I credit Chris with awakening me to the horrors of the residential school system and its lasting impact on Indigenous peoples.

Both his parents, his aunties and uncles, they all attended the schools. They had never been lovingly parented. Deeply wounded, they did not know how to parent their own children.

Chris wasn’t angry with his parents. He was angry with ‘the white man’. With authority. With a system that denied him dignity, respect, justice and freedom.

And still, for all his anger and pain, Chris kept turning up for our group every single Wednesday afternoon. He didn’t have a home, but he did have a place to belong in our small group of fledgling writers and actors.

The play itself was a cooperative endeavour. Everyone involved offered their words and ideas and as a group, we chose which ‘story-line’ to pursue in the overarching piece.

Chris was an inspired rapper. His words penetrating. His emotions ran deep.

Everyone agreed, Chris’ story was a pivotal piece of the play and he was hyped to be giving voice to his people’s story.

And then, a few days before the play was to be mounted, I received a call from Chris.

He was in tears.

I’ve been arrested, he told me. I won’t be out before the play.

I struggled to find a way to get Chris permission to still be able to be part of the play. But the system was greater than me.

I don’t know what happened to Chris after that as once the prison doors closed, I lost touch with him.

What I do know, and I mean know, is that Chris made a difference in my life. He opened the door to the dark underbelly of our history. His wasn’t just ‘a story of a boy lost to the streets’. It was the story of an entire people whom, despite the centuries of abuse they’d endured, had never lost their will to fight. To survive. To live.

I don’t know where Chris is now, but I believe, and I mean believe deeply, that wherever he is, Chris is waking people up to the fact, ‘not knowing’ is not good enough.

We must educate ourselves. We must start asking questions. Demanding action. Creating change. Now.

What are you willing to do?

I feel like I have been holding my breath for the past week. I feel like the burden of these days have settled on my spirit, bringing me little peace of mind, little gentleness of body.

Mind and body are all one.

Our human condition is all one.

We are all one people sharing this one planet walking this one earth, together.

We are One.

Peel back my skin, my blood runs red. My bones are white.

Peel back your skin, your blood runs red. Your bones are white.

Peel back the layers of my story, your story, we were all born of a mother’s womb. Different yet the same.

Our lives entered this world through a force of nature that sometimes feels too mystical, too ephemerally magical to comprehend.

Yet here we are. Walking this one earth. Sharing the same air. The same waters. Lands. Breath.

A friend commented on my FB page this morning that “There is always light after darkness.”

She’s right. The earth turns. The sun rises. Darkness rests. The earth turns. Sun rises….

If we keep our eyes closed, we will never see the light. To see the light, we must step into the darkness with our eyes and heart and minds wide open to its shadows, its hidden mysteries, its beauty.

The lights shines brightest in the darkness. So does truth.

In an email exchange with a friend this morning I commented on how to heal, Indigenous peoples have had to be able to speak the truth of what happened to them.

In my own life, speaking truth has helped me heal from childhood abuse, initmate partner abuse, and from my own misdeeds on this journey called, ‘my life’.

Speaking truth heals.

So does facing it.

And the truth is, non-Indigenous Canadians have struggled to hear the truth and to face our shared history of racism and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples because… it hurts.

It hurts to think that our forefathers acted with such cruel and callous intent towards those who walked these lands long before the first boatload of settlers arrived.

It hurts to know that, while the motivation behind Residential Schools at the time may have been considered ‘best practices of the day’, (even writing that phrase I am aghast to think it was possible knowing what we know today, but at the time, it is possible it was so) they did little to stop the abuses they uncovered, at the time and during the century and a half of their existence, and continue to take little concrete action to address the truth of the inequities of The Indian Act today which continues to limit the rights and lives of Indigenous peoples.

And it hurts to think this land, this country of which so many of us are proud, believe is a fair and just nation, is not, has never been such, and continues to be not a fair, just and equitable nation for Indigenous, First Nations, Metis, Inuit and many people of colour.

It hurts.

Truth does that sometimes. It hurts.

But when I write it out. When I state unequivocally, we are not a fair, just and equitable nation for all, there is hope. In the face of the truth, I do not have to waste my time defending against it.

In acknowledging it, I open the door to the question… “What am I willing to do about it?” What am I willing to do to dismantle the lies I’ve told, the mistruths we all told to keep the status quo in place, no longer continue to exist? No longer continue to keep those who have been harmed by our inability to bear witness to the truth, can breathe fresh air, drink clean water, live fearlessly on this land that has been their land since long before we arrived.

What am I willing to do about it?

I will speak the truth. I will not hide behind platitudes of “We’re doing our best”. “It takes time to right a ship this large.” “It’s complicated.” “Change doesn’t happen over night.” etcetera. etcetera. etcetera.

It is in our denial, in our shying away from truth, in our dismissal of facts, our refusal to hear the pain and trauma, our habit of casting blame on the victims, to wash away the struggles of many with words like, ‘it’s time to get over it’, or, ‘‘those people. they’ll never change. they’re just dirty, rotten….’, it is in our inability to listen, and hear and be present with the truth, that we become that which we do not want to be, ‘an unfair, unjust and inequitable country.’ A country where the privileges bestowed the majority, simply because of the colour of our skin, give us an inequitable right and access to fresh drinking water, education, safe housing, health care, financial well-being, freedom of speech, justice and so much more.

The light shines brightest in the darkness.

It’s time we cast light on the truth so that we can stand in the darkness of our past, and find our way into a future where all children, all people, no matter the colour of our skin, our faith, our age, our education, our history, the depth of our bank account, or our ‘connections’, have the possibility of living a future free of racism, discrimination and abuse.

A future where our Canada is a just, fair and equitable nation for its people.

Namaste.

_______________________________

The anger comes in waves — this morning’s news shared on CBC that our Federal Government “says it’s not liable for cultural damage caused by Kamloops residential school: court documents”

I use the ‘our’ intentionally. This is our government. We cannot, must not, let them get away with denying the truth.

Link to CBC article.

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.

_______________________________

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.

Did They Search For The Children?

A 1931 photo of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. PHOTO BY NATIONAL CENTRE FOR TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION

I am haunted. Haunted by the image of a mother desperately trying to find her child.

I am burdened. Burdened by the stories buried beneath generations of denial.

I am bewildered. Bewildered by the truth that we are not standing up as a nation, standing with the Indigenous community, decrying these acts of genocide and demanding we start listening, deeply, to the stories so that we stop repeating history, again and again and again.

And I am saddened. Saddened by so much loss. So much abuse. So much.

____________

I awoke this morning with a question on my mind. “Did they search for the children?”

Because I know, if it had been one of my children who had gone missing, run away, taken, the police, the community, my family and friends would have banded together and never stopped looking until she was found.

And sadly, I know, that didn’t happen. Sadly, I know, no one listened when the mother of one of the 215 undocumented deaths cried out, “Help me. My child is missing!” Sadly, I know this is true.

Calgary Herald Article, May 21, 2021 – Why so many children died at Indian Residential Schools

______________________

Did They Search For The Children?
by Louise Gallagher

When they discovered
they were gone,
when they realized
their bed was empty
did they search
for the children?

Did they send out a call
for volunteers
to come
band together
with the police and school administrators
and community members
and the parents whose tears 
could not stop falling
as they searched 
desperately
the long tall grasses
that surrounded the school
in a frantic attempt
to find their child
gone missing in the night.

Did they search
or did they already know
it was too late
the child was gone
forever
buried
beneath the black
earth covering
their tiny, fragile body
still
forever more.

And when the mother came
knocking, knocking, knocking
at the door
her body awash in a river of pain
did they bring her inside
and wrap their arms around her
and tell her how
how this had happened
what had gone wrong
how sorry and ashamed and horrified
they were that her child
was lost
and that they too
would never stop
searching 
for answers
never stop searching 
for her child
forever more.

Or did they slam the door
on her dirty Indian face
leaving her to wander
inconsolably
in the rain and the sleet and the snow
under a hot burning sun 
along the long dusty road
leading away from the last known place
where she had seen her child
enter
that dark day
the police and the Indian Agent
had come
to steal her child away.

Did they slam the door in her face?
Did they turn their backs on the mother
and whisper amongst themselves
how they would never tell
anyone
what had happened
to the child.

These questions
these remains
these stories
of two hundred and fifteen children
found
buried
deep
beneath the black soil
surrounding a school
where children were taken
from their loving families
so the ‘Indian’ could be beaten out of them,
these questions
these remains
these stories
they haunt me.

And I imagine a mother
grasping for her child
as the police tear the wee one out of her arms
and I see Auschwitz and Buchenwald
but I do not see
my Canada

Oh my Canada
we have lived with these stories
burning
deep
buried beneath
the dark soils
of this land
eating away at our nationhood
and still 
we do little.

And I imagine it happening to me
while my daughters were young
or my daughter’s children 
and the children of her friends
right now
being forcibly taken
so the Canadian can be beaten out of them
and I wonder
would we ever recover?
Would we ever 
get 
over 
it
as so many suggest
those who lost their children
and their culture
and their language
and their land
must do
now?

And I wonder
can we ever recover
from our past?
Can we ever wash away
our shame
when we know now,
as they knew then,
we cannot bring
these children back.
They are gone
forever.

Does God Weep

There are moments when the exquisite beauty of this world catches me unaware stealing my breath away like a sunrise washing over my body falling into the deep abiding silence of awe consuming me as I stand witness to darkness turning into light.

And still, standing amidst those moments there is the ineffable darkness of man’s inexplicable nature, of cruelty and cowardice, of rabid words and violence that pierce my heart, breaking it into shattered shards of despair, blocking the light with its litany of sins perpetrated by man upon the innocent.

This morning and yesterday darkness collided with light. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. The site of a residential school where the remains of 215 children were found buried and left, unmarked, as those in power erased their names. They were never forgotten by their people who have carried the stories and faced the denial of those who knew the truth. 215 lives x generations to come of pain and suffering, loss and unacknowledged grief and trauma. A history denied by those who perpetrated it. A history still lived by those who have carried the burden of all that was done to save them, in the name of god.

I have few words. Only a poem that has fallen out of the darkness.

Does God Weep?
by Louise Gallagher

does god weep
beneath the weight
of the horrors done
in his name?

does he cry out
in despair
as his people do
at the truth of 215
lives
buried
beneath the soil
in the worship of his name?

I do not know this god 
the one for whom so many innocents died
and so many lives were destroyed
because his name could not be tarnished
by the likes of them
until the likes of them
looked more like us.

I do not know how
he carries the burden
of all that was done
for him
when what was done
for him
was done to his children
those precious gifts of life
full of promise
of untold stories that lay buried
through the generations
in unmarked graves
hiding the truth
of what was done 
in his name
a truth that was always known
by those who walked the lands
of Tkemlups te Secwepemc
.

Did god nor man
not see the truth
of those innocent lives
stolen
and discarded
like left over wine at the altar?

I do not know if god weeps
but I do
weep
for the inexplicable darkness
of our human nature
blocking out the light
killing off our humanity
until all that is left
is a forensic accounting
too late

too late
to save the lives
of those left behind
of those who followed
the mothers and fathers
the sisters and brothers
the grandmothers and grandfathers
aunts and uncles and cousins 
too many
who have fallen beneath the burden
of all that was lost and done
in the name of god.

How to Beat Back Fear

Grow Wild – mixed media on canvas, 12 x 12″

Every time I sit at my studio table, stare at a blank canvas or page in an art journal, I feel the dark, dank tendrils of fear slithering up my spine. They scurry throughout the dendrites of my brain, plump with their insidiously sour whisperings about why I must stop. Now. Before I prove my worst fear true: I am inadequate to the task.

And every time I put paint brush to canvas or word to print or complete any task I set out to do fearing I can’t, I beat back fear.

Painting has taught me, I must feel the fear. See. it. Acknowledge it even. And then, I must transform it through taking action.

It doesn’t matter if the action leads to a ‘masterpiece’. What matters is, I stepped into the fray, faced my fears and forged on.

Creativity is the art of facing fear down with action. Action that takes you into the very territory fear is trying to keep you out of. Your fear of facing your magnificence, your beautiful self expression of your soul’s calling to be witness to all of life. Your fear of moving beyond your comfort zone. Of facing your fears, and the world. Your way. Wild and Free.

Perhaps, that’s what makes one person dive into their creativity while another will insist they don’t have any – the willingness to face fear again and again and again and still keep going.

Perhaps, it is our definition of ‘creativity’ that needs to expand so that we can all see how inherently creative it is to be human.

I have a friend who constantly says she is not creative, even though she is a marvelous cook, seamstress, friend. One of the things she does that always strikes me as an expression of her creative nature is to make beautiful meals for friends in moments of distress. She artfully packages each meal up with flowers and a beautifully penned note of support and delivers them to her friends in need. Yet, when I point out this is another viewpoint of creative expression, she brushes off my assertions with a, “That’s not very creative. It’s just what friends do.”

“Don’t you worry about intruding on their grief or pain?” I ask. (I have a fear of intruding when people are in moments of distress.)

“Sometimes,” she replies. “But I also know how much comfort someone feels when a friend turns up at their door with a gift of food and flowers when the last thing they can think about is what to make for dinner. So I do it anyway.”

See. Facing fear with action to create beauty, comfort, and ease in the world around you.

Yesterday, a friend picked up one of my paintings he’d purchased. One of his comments touched me deeply. “I love your art,” he said. “It’s so peaceful.” (Thank you BC)

I have never thought of my work as ‘peaceful’. Yet, when he said it, I felt the peace that consumes me when I face my fear of the blank canvas and lay down swathes of color and texture. Perhaps, that is what my friend sees and feels – the peace and joy within me, expressing itself outward onto the canvas.

The great Russian abstract painter, Vassily Kandinsky said, “Color is a power which directly influences the soul.”

I paint with color. It is an expression of my soul. It soothes my mind, my body, my being present.

It calms my fears and, even though I hadn’t realized it before, it stirs my courage awake. Awakened, I beat back fear. Not with angry words and protestations against its presence. But with the most loving, kind thing I can do for myself. Get creating.

And while I often don’t know where I’m going with a painting until I get there, the fastest route to get beyond my fear to find out where I’m going, is to let the colors lead my body into self-expression.

So thank you BC. Not just for your friendship and support of my work, but for your words. They touched me deeply and bring me great joy. And have given me a window into my own self-expression I hadn’t opened before. Much gratitude.

Namaste

Why I Dance!

Why I Dance – mixed media on canvas board. 11 x 14″

Years ago, as a gift for my daughters, I painted two paintings on the theme of dancing.

Yesterday, I wrote a poem entitled, Why I Dance.

I knew that somewhere I had a photo of the painting I’d created for my eldest daughter and went in search of it. I thought it might make a good accompaniment for my poem.

I found the painting, (believe me I was surprised!) but… I wasn’t all that pleased with the work. At the time, it was good. I had only been painting for a couple of years and it was a reflection of my nascent skills and talent.

But, (and yes, there’s always a ‘but’) I had totally forgotten about the ‘when’ of my beginning to paint until I started working on a new piece to go with my poem.

I started painting in the throes of a relationship that almost killed me. I had mostly quit writing. Writing is about truth for me and the truth around that relationship was enshrouded in so much pain and fear and terror I could not, would not, didn’t dare express it.

On that first day when I picked up a paintbrush, I found a way to express myself through creating beauty to block out the pain and fear I lived within every moment of every day.

As I look back on the gifts that painting has brought me, I am humbled by its power to transform fear into faith, pain into perseverance, horror into hope.

My eldest daughter taught me how to paint.

My daughters teach me how to love, the darkness and the light, within and all around me.

Writing teaches me every day how to walk in truth.

Painting awakens me, every day, to the beauty, within and all around me.

And here’s the thing about writing. This post is not at all what I had thought it would be about when I started typing this morning.

And then, the words appeared and as is the way, they just kept flowing as I flowed with them.

I’d type more but… Beaumont the Sheepadoodle is sitting by my desk, staring at me with that looks he gets when he feels I have been sitting here too long. “It’s time to get out into nature,” he says with his emploring eyes.

And I believe him and am off to dance with nature.

Why I Dance 
by Louise Gallagher  

There is no rhyme 
or reason 
to why 
I dance 

there is only  
the beat 
pounding 
pulsing 
pushing 
my body 
to move 
cavort 
contort 
into expressive release 
of the energy 
coursing 
through my veins 
limbs extended 
reaching out 
as if in that one  
fluid motion  
I can grab on 
to nothing 
but air 
and fly 
as high as the sky 
free 
of all earth 
bound need  
to be tied 
down.  
There is no rhyme  
or reason 
to why I 
dance. 
 
There is only  
the desire 
to fly 
free. 
This is the painting I created in 2003, the year I was released from that relationship.

She Could Not Let The Gods Die

My mother was born in India of Euro-Asian descent. At the time, Pondicherry was a French Protectorate with a very vibrant and strong Catholic community.

Devoutly Catholic, she affixed crucifixes above doors and kept statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus by her bed. She also ensured there were statues of Vishnu and Lakshmi and other gods all around the house, just in case.

The words of a prayer were never far from her lips, especially if one of us four children lost something or tested her patience (read mostly me). Where I was concerned, it didn’t take much provocation for her to quickly launch into a prayer to St. Jude, the Saint of Lost Causes.

I remember once, we were camping and my sister and I were using one of my father’s favourite camping pots as a bucket. We would scoop water out of the river and then throw the water back in as if it were raining. I was scooping and throwing and accidentally let the bucket go as I was throwing the water back in. I remember watching, aghast, as the bucket bobbed along the surface of the water, out of reach. My mother made me pray with her to St. Jude and a few minutes later, the pot was found safely tucked in between two rocks a bit further downstream. She was convinced it was St. Jude answering our prayers, just as she was convinced, God and St. Jude would never give up on me.

Yesterday, I read Agah Shahid Ali’s poem, “Lenox Hill” which arrived in my Inbox via The Poetry Foundation. Reading his powerful and provocative words, I was reminded of my mother and her many gods and goddesses and her deep abiding faith in the God of her faith.

This poem was born…

She Could Not Let The Gods Die
By Louise Gallagher

Tired now,
she prayed feverishly
to her Lord
God of her faith
committed 
to following His way
to the other side.

It was the way 
of the cross
she’d carried away
from the land of her birth
when she’d left
to follow the way
of a man
who appeared
like one of the gods
she could not let
die.

She carried her faith like a cross
but could not let the gods
of her land of birth
die
just in case.

You never know when you might need
a god of another colour
she whispered into the shroud
of mystery
that encircled her
in the dead of night.
You never know who will meet you
at the door
of Heaven or Hell or Svarga loka.

And when the time came
for her to pass over
through the gates
of an unseen world
she held tight
to the rosary she’d carried
with her from the land of her birth
as her lips silently moved,
praying feverishly for her soul
to achieve enlightenment.

I have never let you die,
she whispered with her dying breath
where karma met Moksha on the way
of the cross
releasing her from all earthly ties
free
to live in peace
forever 
on the other side.