Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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The Road Less Travelled: Adventures in YYC

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The city core is filled with quiet spaces that invite walkers by to pause, catch their breath and sit awhile. In the west end of downtown there’s Poetic Corner, a tiny oasis of zen-like space designed to give passers-by pause to contemplate the giant arachnid sculptures perched on the stone steps.

On 7th Avenue, there’s the park by the NOVA building, complete with meandering streams and streaming waterfalls.

Yesterday, while walking to a meeting in the late afternoon, I passed the park at the MacDougall Centre, the southern offices of the Premier and found myself entranced by the sounds of the tumbling waterfalls, the firs whispering in the breeze and the birds chirping in their branches. I’ve passed this park many times and never taken the time to discover it. I’ve always been on my way to somewhere, a meeting, a lunch date, back to the office. I’ve always had a reason to hurry by.

It is the nature of being at home in the city.

While sitting with a couple of girlfriends on Monday sharing lunch at a local pub, I glanced out the window beside us and spied a Magpie hopping along the roof of an SUV parked beside the building.

“Isn’t that interesting,” I commented to my friends. “I see that Magpie and my mind immediately started to discount its presence.”

Magpies are everywhere in Calgary. They squawk and taunt from tree tops and where ever else they’re perched. They hop along lawns, willing errant squirrels and other rodents to chase them. In the sunlight, their feathers glimmer with pearlescent hues of green and blue and aqua. But mostly they’re considered a nuisance.
What struck me as interesting though was how watching that bird on the rooftop immediately took me back in time to a vacation in New Zealand. We’d gone for a month’s ski trip only to discover the snow was awful. So instead, we toured about the south island. One day, sitting in a pub chatting with my then husband and some other friends we’d met along the way, I spied a Kia hopping along the roof of a vehicle parked outside.

I thought the bird was cute. His antics amusing.

He’s a nuisance, our friends said.

I laughed and went outside to take his photo.

It’s all in our perspective.

Sitting in that pub in New Zealand, everything looked fresh and new. Everything was interesting. Nothing looked like a nuisance.

Sitting in a pub in Calgary, I see the world through my eyes accustomed to the everyday. Magpies are nuisances. Parks I pass everyday are just that. Everyday spaces I don’t have time to explore.

ThIMG_7316anks to the awareness gained through my observations of that Magpie, I took the time yesterday to stay awhile in the park at MacDougall Centre. I walked beneath the firs, skipped across the blocks of concrete that cross the stream at the top of the waterfall and sat on a bench in the late afternoon sun soaking in the tranquility of my surroundings, even as the city traffic scurried by on the avenues bordering either side of the park.

I didn’t hear them.

I was immersed in the beauty and wonder of the space that surrounded and embraced me. The space I was inhabiting in that moment.

I still made my meeting on time. The difference was, I carried with me the tranquility of that moment in time, when I stopped to take the road less travelled and savoured the world around me.

Or, in the words that end Robert Frost’s iconic poem, The Road Not Taken,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


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Get off the path well-travelled

They are already on the platform waiting for the C-train when I arrive.

He is maybe 6, 7 years old. Ninja backpack on his back. School is waiting. He’s excited to get there.

She is grandmotherly. Red coat. Black boots. Gloves. Matching purse. Her hair carefully coiffed, the metallic blonde of the dye fading at the roots.

He pulls his blue wool toque down around his ears, the rim just covering his eyebrows.

She pulls it back. Straightens it high against his brow.

He pulls it back down.

She gently slaps his hands away. Tells him it looks ridiculous like that and tugs it back into place. The place where she wants it to be.

His smile fades.

She turns to look for the train.

He pulls his toque back down to cover his eyebrows.

She turns back to look at him. Notices what he’s done. Tells him to stop being a nuisance. Tugs firmly and pulls his hat back into place. She smiles at him and says, “There. That’s better. Now leave it alone.”

His shoulders rise up and collapse downward in one fluid movement. He sighs. His hands swing by his side. He doesn’t touch his toque.

It is just a moment in time. A tiny vignette of a grandmother taking her grandson to school. Doing what she believes is her best. The right thing. The best thing she can do to prepare him for his day, and possibly teach him a lesson for life.

I wonder what message he got?

It wasn’t that her looks at him weren’t loving. They were.

It wasn’t that she didn’t have his best interests at heart. She did. I’m sure she loves her grandson to pieces. I’m sure she feels he was being a nuisance. That he needs to obey her, do what she says because that’s the only way he’s going to make it safely to school. If she let him wear his hat the way he wants, might he risk jumping the tracks? Might it lead to his mis-behaving in class, not following the rules, not doing what his teacher says?

You’ve got to obey your elders, I hear her saying in my head. Don’t be a nuisance.

And underneath the obvious concern for his well-being, what other messages were at play?

Don’t do it your way. Don’t colour outside the lines. Don’t think for yourself. You don’t count. You don’t matter. You don’t have the right to … speak up, do it differently, be individual. You don’t have a say. You don’t have a voice.

And for her what fears was she acting out? Did she need to keep control of every little detail so she could feel comforted by what she knows? Did she fear letting him have his way on this small thing would lead to his taking his own path on bigger things? Did she fear the path less travelled?

I don’t know what was going on in their minds or lives, but for me, the play enacted by this duo spoke deeply to my heart. It spoke deeply to that place within me where I want each and every one of us to honour the individual, to celebrate the different, to praise the uniqueness of our being who we are without fearing who we are is not enough.

It spoke deeply to that place within me where I feel powerless to awaken others to the importance of every small act we take with a child. That place where I want to go back and erase all the little things I did when my daughters were small that maybe didn’t celebrate the miracle of their lives because I was too busy to stop and see the gifts of their uniqueness, or too accustomed to taking the path I knew than to see there was a path less travelled that would awaken brilliance in our everyday lives.

It was a small moment with big ripples. A moment where I saw that for us to stop abuse, for us to end violence, for us to free children from living lives of desperation, we need to awaken to living fiercely in Love with this moment right now. We need to step into our power to do every small thing with love and compassion at the heart of every breath we take so that we no longer choose the path well-travelled and step fearlessly onto the path of Love.