Monday, June 30, 2008

In time.

Hot. Sunny. The slits of the blinds filter the light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Birds twitter. In the distance, traffic hums. The city awakens.

I helped my friend's daughter move out of her house on Saturday. My friend's daughter who discovered one morning that her fiance whom she was to marry in August was untrue. It was a tough time. A difficult day. Yet, amidst the sadness, a day of hope took shape. A day for new beginnings took seed. New ideas were planted.

JS, the young woman who's heart is broken, did well. He was there too. The man who has lied and deceived her. The man who promised he loved her, and only her and yet, does not deny the two other women who believe the same lie. How can it be true?

"I can't believe this is happening to me," said JS.

"Believe it," I told her. "Believe it because in the willingness to accept the truth, your freedom from his lies awakens."

We packed and carried. Talked a little bit. Not much. His presence was like a dark cloud threatening to storm. Glowering. Menacing.

In the end, she tried to remove her pictures from the computer. He had protected them. Read only. She had to ask him for help. He downloaded the photos onto CDs. "Now delete them from the computer," she said.

"What about me?" he asked. "I want to keep the pictures of you. I want the memories."

I could see her resolve wavering. I had stood with her while he downloaded the photos. It's not healthy to stand alone in the presence of the man you loved and who lied with one breath. It's not healthy. Your mind wants to play tricks on you. Your mind wants to tell you to listen to his lies one more time, just in case... Just in case this time he tells the truth.

"You have a choice," I told him. "Delete the photos or give her the hard drive to take away and clean up."

"I'm not going to give her the hard drive," he said.

"Then delete the photos."

"Why can't I keep them. There's one's of me in some of them too. I want to keep the memories of my life with her for the past five years."

"Your life with her was a lie. Delete the photos."

"Why can't I keep them if she can?"

"Because you cannot be trusted. You are the one who visits porn sites. You are the one who sends naked photos. Delete all the pictures she tells you to delete."

He didn't bat an eye. He didn't deny. He deleted the photos.

When the packing was done, we drove in tandem, four cars carrying her possessions, back to her parents house where everything was to be stored in the garage until she could make plans for what to do next.

"Play your music loud," I told her as we set off. "Let it blare so you can't hear your head thinking. Your head will start to replay everything. It will want to re-write the script. It will want to change his lies to the truth. Play your music loud."

Midway to her parents, she pulled her car over to the shoulder. We followed suit. She raced from her car to the grassy verge of the road. Knelt over, her body arched into a question mark, her shoulders shaking.

"I'm going to throw up."

Her mother stood on one side. I stood on the other. "Breathe." I commanded. "Breathe."

I drew a long slow breath. In. Out. I leaned my body against hers. Wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "Breathe with me."

She began to breathe. Her body shook. Her hands could not remain still. Breathe.

She wanted to cry. She wanted to wail.

"You can't do that yet." I said. "Right now, you have to concentrate on driving. You have to focus on getting back to your parent's house. That's the job right now. Later. When you're settled in, you can fall apart. You can wail and cry, but for now, you must not cry. You cannot fall apart."

She nodded her head. After fifteen minutes, we got back into our cars and drove to her parents without incident.

She is a strong young woman. At twenty-three she is learning a life lesson that will forever change her perspective on love, on living, on relationship.

In time, the harsh edges of the pain will curl up and dry. The burnt embers of her sorrow will crumble and fall away. Dust to dust.

In time, the fear will ease. Slip back into the waters of life, into the river of tears flowing endlessly to the sea. Healing waters will replace the tears as she learns to live with the sorrow of having loved the one who is untrue.

In time, the sorrow will fade. Dissipate like fog in the morning sun. Rise up and clear away. Its memory a faint mist over the horizon, somewhere over the rainbow.

In time, she will smile again. Laugh again. Love again.

In time, she will see her strength. She will acknowledge her amazing courage. Her ability to do what had to be done, even when her heart was breaking.

In time, she will heal and in her healing she will rise up. A woman of strength. A woman with a powerful voice. A woman who has walked through the fires of his lies and found the courage to turn up for herself, in all her pain, in all her tears and be heard.

In time, she will heal.

And she will rejoice in the text message that tore her world apart. It brought her the freedom to find the truth and take action to save herself before she sank beneath the quagmire of his lies, lost to the world around her.

It takes time to build a web of deceit. Time to deceive the one who loves you into believing your lies are the only truth she needs to hear, to know, to see. It takes time to break apart a heart, chisel it into a million little pieces and scatter them to the winds.

It takes time to be deceived.

It takes only a moment of time for the crack in his facade to appear. It takes only a moment in time to step through the gap. And in that moment, the dam of his lies crumbles and the truth pours in.

She will heal. And she will rise again. She is one strong, courageous woman.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

To everything there is a season

She's going to be okay. My friend with the straw coloured braid that snakes down her back like Rapunzel's rope of hair. She's going to be okay.

They cut out the cancer. Performed the mastectomy and confirmed the disease had not spread to her lymph glands.

she's going to be okay.

Today, I celebrate.

Today, I go help my friend's daughter pack up her house so she can extricate herself forever from the man who was untrue. The man who lied and deceived and manipulated her mind because -- well, just because. It's what he does. It's what he must do to get what he wants. It is his game.

It is not her game.

So today, I will be with her and my friend as they tread the shifting sands of endings and beginnings, no clear delineation between what is the end, and what is the new beginning. Just the deep sad sorrow of saying good-bye to love that never was true. Of something that never was and could never be, because truth never had a role in his machinations.

It is a time to celebrate. A time to week. A time to as Pete Seeger wrote in his song, Turn. Turn. Turn, a time for every purpose under heaven.

Today, my purpose is to turn up and pay attention. To be there for this young woman with my courage, my strength, my knowledge and my encouragement. To share with her my wisdom of how to heal a broken heart after the one you love has broken apart his facade to reveal the lie beneath the mask.

For no matter how heartbroken we may be, a broken heart is an open heart and an open heart is a loving heart.

Today my purpose is to be love, open and true.

The question is: What's your purpose today? Are you walking through each moment opening your heart to the love around you?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Say a little prayer

Prayers go up and blessings come down. Yiddish Proverb

Last night, my friends, U and A, came for dinner. U goes into the hospital today to have the cancer that is corroding her breast removed. She's having a double mastectomy. Radical treatment for a debilitating, life-threatening disease. Curative and preventative. Her mother died of breast cancer. So did her aunt.

Over a glass of wine and a light summer's meal, we laughed and joked, talked about life and travelling, careers and hopes and dreams. Alexis and Liseanne joined us. C.C. came late as he was driving back from the southern part of the province.

It was an evening of hope. Of love. Of confidence in tomorrow. It was an evening of celebration.

This morning, I am going with U and her daughter T to the hospital to wait until U goes to sleep and has her body radically transformed. The surgeon's knife will cut into her body and remove the cancer, but nothing can cut out what U does not carry -- fear.

I asked her if she was afraid. "No," she replied. "I have nothing to fear. I trust my surgeon. I trust the science of medicine and I know this is the best course of action. I know this is the right thing to do. I know I will be okay."

Her husband agreed. "Everything is going to be fine," he said, raising his glass to toast good health, his wife of 45 years and the future.

Over the course of the four hour surgery, U's body will be altered and the cancer removed. Nothing however, can remove the beauty that radiates from within U. Nothing can change her spirit. She is a woman of great heart. A woman of quiet joy. Serene. Gentle. Graceful.

Cancer has taken hold of her body. Today it will be removed. And when she awakens, U will still be the amazingly beautiful, kind and loving woman she is.

I am blessed to call her friend. I am blessed to be a part of her circle of love.

As Aretha Franklin promised in her 1960s hit, "I'll say a little prayer for you,", please say a prayer for my friend today. She is strong and courageous, a beautiful spirit. According to scientists, 'prayers work'*. Our prayers are the gift we share when the only thing we can do is stand in silent support of those we love.

*A recent, controversial study of cardiac patients conducted at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, concludes that this type of prayer -- known as intercessory prayer -- may indeed make a difference. "Prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care," says cardiac researcher William Harris, Ph.D., who headed the St. Luke's study. The study was published in the October 25, 1999 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

God speed.

It was a morning of good intentions. I'll write my blog, walk to work and move into my day with grace and ease.

And then I got the phone call.

A client died in the wee hours of the morning. He'd been dropped off by city police an hour earlier. Staff had checked on him in Intox where he was sleeping once and then on their second round forty-five minutes later discovered him breathing with difficulty. They immediately took action. CPR. EMS. But to no avail. After twenty minutes EMS pronounced him deceased.

Tragic. Sad. Painful.

For his family, a loss of someone they love. No matter the circumstances of his life. No matter what led him to be here on that night. No matter what happened before he got here. The pain of his passing, the void that will be left in his death will never be filled.

Tragic. Sad. Painful.

For staff, it is a horrific event. A circumstance that they struggle with to let go of the, If only...

If only we'd checked on him more often...

If only we'd realized...

If only we'd...

The 'if onlys' haunt. The reality is, they could not have known. They did their absolute best. They did everything they could.

Whatever caused this man's death will be determined in a medical examiner's office. All they know right now is, if only will not change anything.

They did their best.

I have no questions for you today. It is a day of sadness. Of quiet. Of reflection. A day to give thanks for this life I have as I whisper a pray for a man who has no chance of ever finding his way home again.

He will be missed.

God speed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Last night I participated in a discussion group about homelessness and affordable housing. Along with the professionals from the homeless sector, the attendees were individuals from a community in the city, looking to 'do something' about homelessness.

At one point, a woman commented that the young guys she talks to on worksites all say how dangerous the shelters are. How they fear for their lives.

"I take exception to your comment," I told her. "In the 47+ years our agency has been in existence, we have had one death from violence. And that was a fight that went wrong. Our mission is to create a safe place for people who do not have a home of their own. And we do it, 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day. Those homeless individuals who have been killed have been killed on our streets, in our parks, along our riverbanks. They have been killed by other citizens, some of whom are homeless, many of whom aren't."

"I didn't mean to imply the shelters are unsafe," she replied. "I was just repeating what these guys say. Mostly it's around the mentally disturbed people they encounter. They scare everyone. Why, just the other day, my husband and I were stopped at a red light and this crazy woman came over and started pounding on our car windows. That was terrifying."

"Yes, it is terrifying when those things happen," I replied. "What is even more terrifying is that we as a society have not risen up in arms. We have not screamed out loud at our politicians to help. We have not insisted that we create safe harbour for these individuals for whom mental disease has decimated their capacity to care for themselves. As a shelter, we do not care for these individuals because we believe they belong in a homeless shelter. We care for them because there is no other agency that will take them. There is no other place for them to go. And that is wrong."

It is wrong. Emergency homeless shelters are not designed to care for the profoundly mentally ill. We are not equipped to handle the complexity of their needs. All we can do is our best. And every day, we struggle to do our best in a situation where we cannot deliver the help people need and deserve.

It is estimated that sixty percent of all homeless individuals have some form of mental health issue. From mild depression to the profoundly serious. Schizophrenia. Bi-polar. Antisocial personality disorder. There are a host of labels to apply against the disorders that affect these individuals. And, there are a host of labels to apply against a social service system and a government that continues to hold back support and help that will make a real difference in these individuals lives. But we never apply those labels. We never hold our governments accountable. We never stand up as a society and say, "This is wrong. Let's do something. Now. Today. Not tomorrow. But right now."

Sure, we are doing some things. "Let's give them a home," proponents of the Housing First model state. "Let's get them housed first and then give them the help they need."

And that is a great idea. But what about the individuals who simply cannot support themselves?

What about the 65 year old woman who wears diapers to control her incontinence? She doesn't change them herself. Our staff do that. She sits in a corner all day. Talking to herself. Staff have to ensure she showers at least once a week. She doesn't like taking a shower. She doesn't like the feeling of the water against her skin. And she doesn't like taking her clothes off. We are a community setting. Our clients live communally. She has to have a shower for her own well-being and so she doesn't offend the olfactory glands of those around her. And so, they cajole her, coerce her, carry her into the shower and get her cleaned up whenever they can.

Our staff aren't mental health care-givers. Our mandate is not to care for mental health patients. Our mandate is to provide shelter to the homeless. This woman is homeless. There is no where else for her to go. No one else to provide her care. So we do. The best we can.

And what about the 50 year old man who has resorted to alcohol as a way to make himself feel better. He doesn't feel better. He's got a mental disorder. The alcohol does help him stay numb and compliant -- it also means he is in a constant state of inebriation, on a fast downhill slide with destiny. He needs continuous care. Continuous supervision to ensure he takes the drugs that will control his schizophrenia. He needs to be observed constantly to make sure he doesn't harm himself. While it would be nice to think a home of his own would cure all of that, the truth is, he isn't capable of maintaining himself in a home of his own. He needs help beyond the level of our care. But, no one else will take him. No one else will provide him with care.

Across Canada and the US, there are thousands upon thousands of people with mental health issues roaming our streets and alleys. They wind up in shelters. They wind up in rivers. They wind up in morgues.

And still we stay silent.

Yes, it is shocking that a young, healthy man ends up homeless. It's tragic that he has to live in a shelter while he stock piles enough cash to find a place to live -- that's if he can ever stockpile up enough cash to pay the first and last month's rents that have skyrocketed with the soaring skylines of our cities growing up.

Shocking too is the woman fleeing her abusive partner who comes in out of the storm to find shelter until she can get back on her feet again. She will get back on her feet and carry on. Somehow. She has the mental capacity to make it happen. And we help her as best we can.

But those with mental disorders? How do they get on their feet again? Where will they get on their feet again? What can they do to get on their feet again?

Some of them never were on their feet. Their lives have always been affected by their mental disease. Their families have given up. Their communities don't know what to do and the mental health system doesn't have the facilities and beds to care for them. Some of them can't find their feet because they lost them to frostbite or gangrene and diabetes and are now trapped in a wheelchair looking for any means to ease their pain -- and sometimes it comes in a needle poked into a vein or a pipe filled with crack. They haven't got the mental capacity to understand that the very thing that is easing their pain is killing them. All they can think of is that at least it gives them some relief from the constant grind of the mental disorder ripping apart their worlds.

And still we stay silent.

Our public officials do the bidding of the people. If someone is on the street because of their schizophrenia, then you and I put him or her there. We did it because in our silence, our public officials do nothing.

Yup. It is sad that these young men the woman spoke of are frightened in the shelters. And it's sad she was scared by a 'crazy' woman pounding on the window of her car.

What is most sad, however, is that we stay silent.

The question is: Have you had enough yet? Are you willing to find your voice and speak out against the injustices on our streets?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Miracles are free

It was just a simple text message, "He's a liar". At the time of its arrival on her cellphone, Sarah* didn't know its value. But, as the days unfolded and the story of his deceit was revealed, that little text message became a miracle. A gift from God. A sign from the angels that her life was about to change, radically, for the better.

When I first spoke with her, she couldn't see the miracle of that text message. She could only feel its pain. She couldn't see the gift of knowledge it presented or the freedom it represented. She didn't want to see it was a gift for a better future.

She wanted his love to be true. She wanted him to be true. She wanted time to rewind and take her back to time before the text message arrived, to time before everything went wrong.

"It's all my fault," she said. "If only I had...." And then, she listed of the hundred things she could have done differently to keep his love true.

"There is nothing you could have done differently that would have changed him," I told her. "Tall. Short. Fat. Skinny. Blond. Brunette. Green eyes. Blue eyes. Fair-skinned. Dark-skinned. You could have dyed your hair pink and stood on your head spitting nickles. There is nothing you could have done to change him or make his love true. He is the lie."

And that's the challenge of loving a narcissist. There is nothing we can do to change who they are and what they're doing. Lies are the lifeblood of their trade. They are subject matter experts in human manipulation and they spend their lives honing their craft. They don't care if they hurt people. People are the fridges of their supply. Open the door, take out what you need and close it until you need more. Keeping their victims chilling on ice is part of their game. Keeping their victims locked up, their minds frozen over ponds of fear and disbelief, that is what they need to ensure the victim doesn't see the light of their betrayal. They do what they want, get what they need however they can because what they want is all that counts.

For Sarah, the pain of his betrayal has left her reeling. He's had over five years to weave his web of lies around her, in and out of her psyche. He's had five years to contort reality, distort perceptions and distend her belief in herself into a bloated bladder of vile pus oozing with self-deprecation and disbelief.

And now she must heal.

"Why would he do this? He said he loved me? Why? Why? Why?" she asked as every woman and man asks when awakened to the truth of their lies.

"Because he can. Because he must. Because he does. It's what he does. It's who he is," I told her. "Lies are like breathing to him. Protecting his ego at all costs is his purpose and in his mind, there is no higher purpose, no greater calling. It is all he can do."

Miracles are free.

In the gift of their arrival, grace descends as we open up to the truth of their revelations. With grace, we are invited to slip into the healing waters of love so that we can set ourselves free of lies and deception and dance with joy, in harmony with the truth around us. Miracles are free and so are we.

The question is: Do you resist and persist to to believe in the lies in spite of the truth dancing before your eyes? Are you willing to open up to the wonder and beauty of your spirit and let go of the lie that you don't deserve the miracle of the freedom to be your most magnificent self?

*Names and circumstances changed.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Being fearless


After five days of being in the seminar room, I am tired. I am enlivened. I am peaceful.

It was a good week. Then again, I've never been at a Choices seminar that wasn't a great time.

There is something miraculous about standing in a room with 89 trainees and watching miracles happen. Of watching spirits awaken to the truth of who they are as the lies they've carried around inside them fall away into the dust of the past they cannot change. Of watching eyes open wide to the beauty within as they step into the joy of knowing there is hope for a better tomorrow. Of watching ears open up to the truth of knowing they can live the lives of their dreams by turning off the tapes playing inside their heads -- Those tapes that have held them prisoner to the belief they were unworthy of the miracle of their life.

Choices is about miracles.

For me, the miracles come in moments when I find myself living my contract, (I am a fearless woman), effortlessly, with ease and grace.

Fear has been a huge part of my life. Fear of what people think of me. Fear of speaking up. Fear of speaking out. Fear of speaking my truth.

When I live my contract, I am fearless.

People who knew me in the past would not have described me as a 'fearful' person. I did lots of things that spoke to my fearlessness. And I was courageous in those moments. But I was not fearless.

The Atharva Veda states, “Praise the virtues of fearlessness. A truly fearless person embraces even death without any kind of hesitation. ”

To be fearless, I must see my fear and face it. I must acknowledge my fear and name it. I must walk into my fear and free it.

This weekend, I met my fears. My fear wasn't about someone else's behaviour. About their anger. Their story. Their actions. My fear was based on whether I could be present without being there in my fear of not speaking up, not speaking out, not doing the right thing appropriately.

In facing my fear, naming it and freeing it, I know I have fear. Fear is not going to 'go away'. It exists inside me -- where my fear has changed is in my ability to identify it, and to move into it.

In the past, I feared speaking in front of groups of people. Today, I am confident, relaxed and present when I speak in front of groups of people. I still have that moment of 'fear' before I speak. When it arises, I remind myself of the countless presentations I've given and ask myself, "What is the reason I am giving this talk. What is my purpose?" Inevitably, it is to touch hearts and open minds. In knowing my purpose, I take a breath, whisper my contract, step up and speak out.

Being fearless is my response to fear. Being fearless means knowing I am good enough to move through it, beyond it and past it. Being fearless is the gift I give myself when I turn up for me, in my truth, my courage, my fear and free myself to be the magnificent human being I am.

This weekend, I turned up for myself and others, fearlessly. It took effort. It took confidence. It took spirit. It took my belief that I am a fearless woman sharing my unique gifts to create a world in which spirits dance free in love, joy and harmony.

To create that world, I must turn up, for me and those around me, without fear that I am not enough.

The truth is, I do enough. I am enough. I'm good enough.

And my best is good enough for me.

The question is: Where do you hold back from being your best because you are afraid to face your fear? Where does your fear keep you from turning up for you and being magnificent?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. Anne Frank

I'm off this morning with my eldest daughter to coach at Choices. It's one of my favourite and most fulfilling things to do. As a coach, we volunteer our time. Ultimately, we give back to receive gifts far beyond our imaginings.

The purpose of Choices is, as founder Thelma Box states, is about 'Changing the world one heart at a time.'

At Choices, my heart changed as my spirit opened up to the wonder and joy of untethered, unmeasurable love. For myself, and the world around me.

At Choices, I found the calm I had been always seeking. The acceptance of myself I had continuously searched for throughout my life.

At Choices, I found the courage to be myself, without fear of never being enough.

When I went to Choices I had already spent 3 years healing from the debacle of the relationship that almost destroyed me. My book recounting my healing journey, The Dandelion Spirit, had just been published. I was on a high.

I didn't know what I didn't know.

What I didn't know is that there was still so much more to explore within me, so much growing I could do simply by opening my heart up to the wonder of life outside my comfort zone.

So, today I'm I'm off to coach for the next five days. My presence here, on this blog ,will be limited as, though the work is rewarding and fun, this is a time of long days, short nights, fast sleeps.

I'll try to pop in -- and if I don't, see you Monday! Have a great week.

I wish for you an open mind, loving heart and a spirit free to dance with joy in the wonder of being you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Walking home

What people forget is a journey to nowhere

starts with a single step, too.

Chuck Palahniuk

Yesterday, I started a new habit. Walking home from work.

I've wanted to do it since we moved into this neighbourhood in January. I haven't done it because.... well mostly because my car is always in the garage in the morning and walking is forgotten in the haste of rushing into my day to get it going.

This week, however, my friend BA has my car and I am footloose and fancy free to walk where ever I want. What a gift!

C.C. dropped me in the morning at the corner across the river from my building. The five minute walk across the river was enough to get my 'juices' flowing, to kickstart my mind and to fill me with anticipation for the day ahead.

After work, I stayed strong and didn't take up my daughter's offer of a ride home. It's only a half hour walk, why do I need to drive?

I'd forgotten how much I love walking home after work. Forgotten how relaxing it is to journey homeward slowly, rather than fighting traffic.

When I lived in Vancouver, I walked home after work every day. I'd take the fifteen minute Seabus ride from downtown to the North Shore and walk the twenty-minutes up the hill home. In that half hour+ the vestiges of the day fell away.

And that's how I felt last night by the time I got home. The day had fallen away, fallen off along the pathway along the river, over the bridge and up the stairway to the top of the escarpment. Sun danced upon the waters, on the rustling leaves, the flowers in bloom. Sun and warmth and air. It was lovely.

New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield wrote, “Life never becomes a habit to me. It's always a marvel.”

Yesterday, walking home, I realized what a habit it had become for me to drive to work, drive home -- without really thinking about what I was doing. In that habit, I had lost some of the marvel of living in the moment, taking my time to get from point A to point B.

Driving home, my day comes with me. Walking home I am reminded that I have the choice in how I journey -- getting to where I'm going is not the point. Enjoying the journey is.

Walking home, my day falls away as I sink into the joy of finding myself where ever I'm at, marveling in the world around me -- and building a habit worth living. Letting my mind ease away from what must be done, into thankfulness for what has been done, I find my joy in the peacefulness of being right where I'm at, slowly walking away from my day at work, into my evening at home doing what I will to live the life of my dreams.

The question is: Where are you so focused on getting from point A to B every day that you forget to stop, take a breath and enjoy the journey? Where does the end become your destination and the journey become the daily grind?

Monday, June 16, 2008


Blue sky soars into infinity. Hope rises. Anticipation opens up on a carpet of verdant green, sweeping away winter's barren fields and greyness.

I am alive.

Somewhere in the world right now, people struggle to stave off floods and disasters, wars and tribulations. Somewhere a child cries, a mother weeps and a family loses someone they love. And somewhere, someone celebrates a homecoming, new beginnings, endings, a new love, a new life entering this wondrous place called, our world.

On Saturday night, we held a celebration in honour of my eldest daughter Alexis' birthday and coming home. Friends and family gathered round to raise a glass of cheer in honour of this young woman who brings such joy and light into our lives.

Somewhere before the celebrations began, amidst the preparations, the setting out of cutlery and plates, of cutting flowers and tucking away odds and sods of clutter, of sweeping up dog hair and dust, I stopped and took a breath. I was alone. The girls were out, C.C. was golfing, and my friend BA, who had flown in especially to take in the festivities, was upstairs having a shower. Music played, a stringed piece, something classical. Soft. Inspiring. Sunlight filtered in through the windows. The air was light and fresh. Molly slept on one of the love seats and Ellie lay sprawled on the back deck, her body stretched out to gather up as much of the sun's warmth as she could.

There was a peace to the house. A sense of anticipation. An aura of joy. Gratitude glistened on every surface. I breathed in the smells and the feeling. My mind drifted back to other birthdays, other moments where I readied the house for a celebration. For a time when family and friends gathered to celebrate.

I am blessed.

My memories are filled with celebration. Replete with gratitude. So many moments, so many special times, so many times when we have gathered together to celebrate the friendships and love that bind us. Birthdays and grads. End of exams. End of summer. End of winter. New birth. New life. Life passing on. Life growing up. Life changing.

My memories are not in the things that fill this house, my memories are in the people, the times we have shared, the love that connects us. My memories are a wonderful blanket to wrap myself up in, to wrap around the hearts of those I love. Love is the gift we unwrap every moment of every day and spread out in a banquet of memories to treasure, to share, to celebrate. Love is a wondrous sea beckoning us to dive in and revel in its warmth and blessings.

We celebrated my daughters birthday Saturday night. It was a time to rejoice, to live, laugh and love. It was a time to thank the universe for having given us this amazing young woman, for having created a gift as wondrous as Alexis.
The celebration of her life, of the love we share, continues.

The question is: What are you celebrating today? What wondrous gifts are you unwrapping? Are you looking up and seeing the limitless possibilities of your life soaring into infinity?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My father's language of love

Music blares. Beep bop bop. Thrum thrum... Stand up for your life. ... There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that!

Sun. Laughter. Voices chatting. My daughters are busy. Getting ready. Music. Hair dryers. Questions of what to wear. Does this look alright? Should I change to the white top? The pink one? What about this scarf?

They're waiting for a call from their father so they can take him out in celebration of his role in their birth.

He planted the seed that became their lives. Gratitude rises. Thankful hearts reign.

Fathers. I never knew my father well. Never knew what song sang within his heart. Except sometimes. In quiet moments. Walking along the Rhine on a Sunday morning. He would stop and gaze across the placid waters. Up into the trees. My father could hear the wind whispering through their leaves. He could hear the wind's stories rustling.

He'd stop and listen. Sigh. A deep soul refreshing sigh.

"This is beauty," he would say. We'd stand and watch the barges silently drift along the river. The water deep and dark. Ripples in their wakes furrowed with frothy white.

My father yearned for far off places. For lands unknown. Stories untold.

My father told a good story. Once, he told me about being in the desert. About the sand. The wind. The arid lands. "We brushed our teeth with sand," he said. And then he tried to show me how they made glasses out of wine bottles. "Here," he demonstrated, dipping a string into gasoline, tying it tightly around the bottle's top, just where it dipped inwards towards the neck. "You light it and..." with a swoosh of flame, the string lit and broke the top of the bottle off. "A glass," he said holding the product of his spark of light up. Sun glistened on the deep green of the glass. Light fractured into prisms of colour.

My father wasn't much of a handyman, but he sure could bake and cook. Donuts, butterfly cookies, cream puffs. Stews, roasts, liver and onions. Chutneys and jams. My father was most comfortable in the kitchen. It kept him busy. Kept his mind and hands occupied. The kitchen gave voice to his dreams.

Food was my father's language of love. "Here, try this." "I found this recipe." "What do you think of this?" And he'd proffer some new delicacy he'd created. There was always some new conversation erupting from a plate of goodies out of my father's kitchen.

It is a language of love he shared with all of us. Gallagher kitchens are busy places, our hands constantly stirring, mixing, beating, rolling, shaping ingredients into some new delicacy to share with those we love.

My mother learned to cook from my father. When first they'd married, having lived a life where servants took care of everything, she didn't know how to boil an egg. Through my father's teachings, my mother learned to speak the same language. From her tongue, words from the kitchen encompassed tasty morsels of gourmet delights even my father couldn't compete with. With my mother, the teacher became the student, and the kitchen their banquet of love.

My brother was the curry maker. He learned from my mother to cook the foods of her home. My father often complained of the aroma. Too rich. Too ripe. Too replete with spices.

"Food is best appreciated in its simplicity," he would say. He could cook anything, but he never liked to eat most things. "I eat to live, not live to eat," he would opine whenever garlic permeated the air.

He didn't like spicy food, but cooked up a mean chili. "I don't cook for me, I cook for others."

Throughout his life my father always came home to the kitchen. Throughout my life the kitchen has always given my heart a way back home.

My father has passed on. In his passing he has left behind his language of love.

I am grateful I knew my father better than I think. I give thanks for the gifts he gave that live on in the heart of my home with my daughters.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


We wait all these years to find someone who understands us, I thought, someone who accepts us as we are, someone with a wizard's power to melt stone to sunlight, who can bring us happiness in spite of trials, who can face our dragons in the night, who can transform us into the soul we choose to be. Just yesterday I found that magical Someone is the face we see in the mirror: It's us and our homemade masks. Richard Bach

Masks. Those things we hold up to hold off the world, to hold back from showing our beauty and wonder, the miracle and joy of being ourselves.

We all have them. We all use them. The challenge is to discard them. To let go of holding onto our homemade masks so that we can come home to our mystical, magical, magnificent selves.

Today, I invite you to drop your masks, put down your fears that you will be found less than or other than who you truly, magnificently are.

The white light streams down to be broken up by those human prisms into all the colors of the rainbow. Charles R. Brown

Drop your masks and let your colours shine true.

It is a day for unmasking.

The question is: What masks do you hide behind? Are you willing to let it go and stand naked in the light of being your one true self?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The apology

True remorse is never just a regret over consequence; it is a regret over motive. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960
Yesterday, I had coffee with a peer from another organization I work with on planning strategies for ending homelessness. One of the challenges of ending something as insidious as homelessness is, "the frailty of the human condition. We are all fragile human beings," he said. He then went on to talk about his own struggles with finding the life of his dreams, with living his purpose.

Yesterday, I had a TV crew in to interview First Nations clients about their feelings around a recent Apology made by the Government of Canada regarding the Residential School System that decimated the native populations during its fifty year history. They interviewed one client, a 74 year old Native man who spends his days pushing a shopping cart, looking for bottles. At 74 he is a fragile man. Beaten down by life, beaten down by a past he cannot walk away from, he keeps walking the same streets, again and again, looking for something to sustain him. "I have been hurt by this," he said. "I call a homeless shelter my home. This is wrong."

The fragility of the human condition.

In this apology, Canada has taken a step towards righting a wrong perpetrated by the Government. In giving voice to what was wrong, I am proud of my government.

But how do you heal the human spirit?

How do you give back to this 74 year old man the life he never had? How do you give him back his pride? His dignity? His respect? How do you make up for a lifetime of abuse?

In his apology, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the House of Commons, "The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter of our history. Some sought, as was infamously said, to kill the Indian in the child. This policy was wrong, caused great harm and has no place in our country."

With this apology, we open ourselves up to new possibilities. The past can never be changed, but new tomorrow's can be created when the past is set free so that we can walk with renewed purpose into tomorrow.

Letting go to move on.

With every apology there is an invitation for the one who has apologized to step across the chasm separating their differences to embrace their commonalities.

I am glad for the First Nations people that my government found the courage to speak up and apologize.

I am thankful that my government has given me the opportunity to change my mind, to alter my thinking about what we did to create this abuse upon an entire nation.

The challenge now is for every Canadian to speak up and change their minds about what went wrong, about what happened to an entire nation of people. To let go of the stereotypes, to let go of the labels and to step away from our past pre-conceived notions that are terminated in punchlines of jokes where, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

To create a better tomorrow for every Canadian, we must change our beliefs. Beliefs that call First Nations, 'drunken Indians'. Beliefs that label them bums, good for nothings and a host of other derogatory language that would keep them in their place.

It's time to acknowledge as Chief Phil Fontaine stated in the House when he responded to the apology, "What happened today signifies a new dawn on the relationship between us and the rest of Canada... We are all part of one garment of destiny. The ties that bind us are deeper than those that separate us. We still have to struggle, but now we are in this together."

The human condition. It binds us. It ties us together. It is our destiny.

Separated by the divide of our judgements, we cannot connect to the fragile threads of our human condition, that place where when we walk in the magnificence of the beauty of the spirits journey, we are connected to the our collective right to be great.

We are all fragile human beings imbued in the human spirit.

Nothing can give a man back a past he never had. Nothing can change the past he lived. No matter how many times we apologize, until we change the look in our eyes, we will continue to see the same reflection.

The question is: What old beliefs do you cling to for fear of changing your mind? What apologies do you hold back on so that you can continue to be right about something that is wrong? Are you willing to change your mind?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Greatness is my birthright

In, "What it takes to be great," Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor-at-large of Fortune Magazine writes, "The good news is that your lack of a natural gift is irrelevant - talent has little or nothing to do with greatness. You can make yourself into any number of things, and you can even make yourself great."

Yesterday, while talking with my life coach, Sarah, at Forward Bound, we talked about 'denying magnificence'. My innate desire to underplay, under-represent, undermine my own magnificence. For someone who believes in inspiring others to celebrate their own magnificence, it's a pretty tough pill to admit that I do not celebrate myself.

Yet, it's true.

So what? If it's true, why not do something about it?

Good question!

Well, there's that little internal whisper of, but people will think I'm conceited. People will think I'm full of myself. People will think I think I'm better than them.

What if they do? Is anyone's opinion of me about me? Is anyone else's opinion of me important?


My opinion of me counts. My opinion of me is what makes a difference in my life. It's what makes my difference, just as your opinion of you is what counts and makes the difference in your life.

In worrying about someone else's opinion of me, I'm judging people for their opinions. If I think, 'they' will think me stuck-up, I am abdicating responsibility for what I do, or don't do, to the mythical 'they'. That mass of nothingness upon which I can dump my fears of being great so that I never have to acknowledge my greatness, nor even try to live up to it.

Tiger Woods began playing golf at the age of 18 months. Recently, I watched a video of Tiger practicing. He took two practice swings and each time he swung, he watched the 'flight' of the ball as if he had really hit it. His eyes never left the ball. His body followed the swing. When he hit the ball on the third swing, it went exactly where he had anticipated it would go -- not bad for a three year old.

Tiger Woods didn't become a golf great because he kept practising. He became great because every time he practiced he kept his eye on the ball. He knew exactly where he needed it to go -- and that's what he aimed for. And with every swing, he focused on improving upon his last swing. If this one got his ball 18" from the hole, he focused on getting it 16" from the hole on the next swing, until with every swing he was always hitting his mark.

If I am not continually honing my skills as a writer, I am at risk of never living my dream of being a writer. If I do not celebrate myself, I am at risk of never living up to my magnificence.

Being great is all about attitude. It's about drive and perseverance, discipline and self-will. Being great is our birthright. Letting go of our greatness, now that's a choice we make somewhere on the road of life when we take our eyes off the ball of our own greatness and measure ourselves against the opinions of others. And in that choice we put ourselves down, we hold ourselves up from living the life of our dreams.

Not for me.

Once upon a time a wished I could live the life of my dreams. One day my wish became the desire to live the life of my dreams. I turned my desire into the belief that I can live the life of my dreams. Today I will myself the right to live the life of my dreams by living up to my greatness, by embracing my magnificence and celebrating me for all I'm worth.

The question is: What about you? Are you willing to accept your greatness and live up to your magnificence? Are you willing to focus on your dream and bring your drive and perseverance to bear? Are you willing to celebrate yourself?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Holding on to keep from moving forward

The average age in the room was well north of sixty. Approximately 20 people, predominantly men who gather together once a month to socialize and to talk about projects they can undertake in the community. All members of a service club that over the years has done many 'good works' throughout the city. A co-worker and I had accepted their invitation to participate in the meeting because a review of our satellite shelter next door to their facility requires their input.

We got more than we had bargained for. More than we could have imagined.

"We used to come to your shelter and put on a huge dinner a couple of times a year," said one of the group's members as we wound up a discussion of our services. "But someone there told us we could pay for the food that you would buy, but we couldn't cook and serve our own. We quit coming."

"I'm sorry to hear that was your experience," said my co-worker. "We used to have some employees who perhaps didn't have appropriate human relations skills. What can we do to re-build the relationship?"

Breakdowns in communication. Misunderstandings leading to misgivings to turn up and help out.

For this group of men, it was apparent that the loss of the relationship had affected them grievously. It's almost ten years since last they came to the shelter to cook, and their discontent and disappointment was still apparent.

"It became very," and he paused as another member of the group jumped in to explain what happened, ".... uncomfortable. We thought we'd just bring down leftover foods from other events, but it really wasn't all that comfortable to come there."

Righting wrongs is never easy. Changing the past always impossible.

For this service club, the past has affected the present in a such a way that they are uncomfortable with the reality.

Their purpose is to serve. Not serving brings them grief.

We talked about ways to build a new relationship.

"Have you ever had a tour of our new facility?" I asked.

They all responded no.

"Why don't we begin there? No expectations. Come in for a tour. Let's see how we can reconnect."

It was a first step. A positive step forward.

In my life I have areas of discord based on past experiences that continue to create furors of discontent. Maintaining status quo keeps the discord alive. Avoiding confrontation builds higher walls.

To change the dissonance of disruptive or disturbing events, I must either let go of the experience and all its ancillary discord, or do something different today to create a new pathway to tomorrow.

The choice is mine.

How I proceed is up to me.

In the case of the group last night, we didn't know the discord existed until one courageous man brought it up. Conversation opened the door to possibility.

The question is: Where in your life do you hold back on stepping forward because you're afraid to open up to the possibility of change? Where do you hold onto unease to avoid letting go of discontent?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Away is right where I'm at

I had a call yesterday from a friend who reads my blog every morning.

"I just had to call and tell you what happened today," she began and proceeded to tell me about standing up for herself at work. Of asking for what she wanted by asking herself the tough questions and standing up for what she deserved.

Way to go K. Well done!

Yesterday I had lunch with my eldest daughter. She returned last Thursday night from Thailand after being away for almost 4 months.

"I don't fit in," she said. "I go away and come home and can't find myself here."

The joy and trials of travelling and coming home to where you're at.

For me, it is the joy and tribulation of time by the sea. By the sea, my soul is soothed, my spirit revived.

Landlocked, surrounded by the concrete confines of this city nestled at the foot of the Rockies, it is more difficult to be in touch with that sense of being greater than the narrow confines of the world around me. Of being part of 'the ineffable', the elusive spirit of creativity that crashes into me with every waking moment, that fills the void with wanderlust and wondrous visions of life as an adventure worth exploring.

Not that it doesn't exist where ever I am. It does.

But here, where life orders up meetings and places to be and things to do like a full meal deal on steroids, being creative takes work. Being 'in touch' with spirit, with soul and creativity takes discipline, commitment, strength and courage. It takes getting out of touch with my agenda, and into the flow of my desire to be all I'm meant to be in the moment of my doing from the centre of my being.

Like my walk in the rain last night. The rain began to fall before we even got to the end of our walk. My youngest daughter and I shrugged and decided to keep going. The 'spit' turned into a downpour. Storm clouds rolled and churned, spilling out their deluge. Drenched, running across sodden grass, we dodged hailstones pelting down, leaped across puddles and gutters filling up. We kept going. By the time we got home, we were soaked, through to the skin, but it didn't matter. The puppies were happy and we were alive! What a way to live.

I have always noticed that when I am 'away', I find myself centered within my being, sparkling with creativity and tuned into the flow. Without timetables, without an agenda keeping my world in order, life is grace and ease, an exciting exploration of the world around me. Life is a wide open flow of ideas pouring down upon me.

Here, at home where expectations stare me in the face every morning and my agenda is the bible making sense of my day, I can block the flow by standing safe and dry beneath my umbrella of 'things to do', duties to take care of. Under my umbrella, angels tears are nothing more than rain falling. Elephants dancing across the sky are nothing more than clouds rolling by. Under my umbrella my sights are set on the world at my feet, my vision limited by where I'm at -- and often where I'm at is running a race without a racetrack, even though I'm going round and round in circles!

Perhaps it is because when I'm 'away', I don't have commitments to get things done, I have a commitment to finding the value in the doing of whatever I'm doing. 'Away', I am inspired by the world around me. The world around me appears fresh, alive, intriguing. The mystical awaits around every corner. The magical pops out of every nook and cranny, every tree-lined street and wrinkle-lined face.

And that is the challenge. To find the mystical in my daily grind. To turn the grind into a magical journey where I don't fit in because fitting in is for woosies. Fitting in grinds me down.

Life is not a pair of shoes to be worn down on the road of getting from point A to point B.

Life is a fairy's dance in silver slippers, silk ribbons flying. Life is a liberated journey out of shoes that fit into trying on new pairs. Of donning glass slippers with six inch stiletto's and breaking the mould so that I can dance with barefoot abandon, casting off the confines of my expectations that I need to be anyone other than who I truly am.

Life is not in the fit, it's in the misfits who travel beyond the tried and true.

Finding my place here in the city is a recipe for settling for the mundane, the banal, the prosaic.

It takes work to not fit in. It takes effort to let go of the trivial, the hackneyed turn of phrase, the comfort zone meanderings that lead me nowhere but where I've always been.

It takes work and commitment and a belief that life is found out there crashing fearlessly into where I'm at. Life fits me well when I'm living on the outside of my comfort zone, no matter where in the world I may be.

Magical, mystical life. This journey of adventure. One life. One moment to live. Passionately. Fearlessly. Wantonly.

The question is: Where in the world are you at when you're desperately trying to fit in? What pair of shoes can you cast off today to dance in the rain and splash in the puddles of this messy, wondrous, exhilarating journey of life outside your comfort zones?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sex, shoes and a rainy Sunday afternoon in the city

It was a perfect rainy, Sunday afternoon. Alexis, my eldest daughter, and I met my sister J.J. at the theatre to indulge in a 'chick flick', Sex in the City.

Fashionistas beware, this movie is filled with dripping estrogen and men who left the testosterone at the door of political correctness. This is a flick about chicks who prance it, dance it, sing it and live it. This is a story about women who fearlessly talk about everything and anything, especially if it is 'taboo'.

I was never a follower of the series. This movie changed all that.

It's clever. It's witty. It's pure indulgence.

It's about the fashion. The syles. The trendy places. The over-the-top spending. The label-flaunting, the packaging.

Ahhh, the packaging.

Sex in the City packages sex in a pair of Mahnolo Blahnik sky-high heels with every woman's dream of a walk in closet with glass doors and a plush rug soft enough to make love on.... did I say love?

Because in the end, like the Cinderella story Carrie Bradshaw, the main character reads to her girlfriend's daughter, Sex in the City, is all about love, and finding happy endings that lead to new beginnings.

The movie is simple and clever. Very clever all rolled up in a beautiful white fur, or stuffed into a Gucci bag sitting on the credenza.

What's most clever about it, however, is not the fashion, the stunning designs, the colours, the clever repartee.

It's about the friendships. Four women who met twenty years before who have lived the high life, and the sometimes dry life, of New York City and managed to have their friendship survive, in spite of stupid things they've done to each other, stupid things they done with each other, and stupid things they've done because of each other and because of men.

As I sat beside my daughter with my sister on the other side of her, I thought about friendship and family, of ties that bind and ties that can never be broken.

In the end, I admired their friendship but wondered about the families of these women on the screen. Who were their mothers, fathers, siblings? Where were they when Carrie almost got married. Two hundred and fifty people turned up, but never the mention of a family. Where were they when Charlotte gave birth? Oh look, there's Miranda's nanny when her marriage breaks up, but where's her mother? Who does she call when the baby's sick?

In my life, my friendships are vital. They knit together my life independent of my family. They tell the story of my growing years, my struggling times, my sorrowful tears.

But family? Family is always there. Family doesn't read the designer labels or wear sky-high heels. Family can be counted on, to tell me when my heels get too high for my britches, to call me on my fashion faux pas, to dress me down when I'm out of line, and to deck me out when I'm off kilter.

Family doesn't care about what I'm wearing. Family cares only that I carry the colours of our lives woven together with a loose enough weave that I can knit a couple of friends in here, purl a few in there.

Family is my coat of many colours, my coat of arms.

I've got friends. I love them dearly. Sitting in a darkened theatre, my daughter between my sister and me, I was grateful for the joy of family, the blessed circle of love which can never be broken - no matter how far I roam, or how distant we become.

Friends will marry, move away. Friends will break-up and with them take the relationship to other places.

But family will never disappear. I was born into my family. I can never let it go.

It was a perfect rainy Sunday afternoon. A movie about friends viewed from the safety of the circle of my family.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gratitude and blessings

The skies remain cloudy. Rain lightly falls. Coolness fills the air.

I am inside. Warm. Toasty. Dry. I look outside, see the moisture falling. Sense the coolness and retreat. Back to my warm world. Back to my comfort.

I am blessed.

So many people around the world today do not have a warm, dry place to retreat to. They do not have clothes to keep them warm. Coffee to brew. Water to pour. They do not have my comforts.

I am grateful.

I have a warm home. A home filled with people I love and who love me. A never ending circle of love. A continuous song of gratitude.

I have love. A world of love surrounding me. I have family, friends, my daughters, C.C., my puppies. I have a world of love to support me.

I am thankful.

I give thanks. For my life. For my world around me. I give thanks for all I have. For all I receive. For all I know. I give thanks to the world around me. To the universe for supporting me. I am the gratitude of the skies pouring down. I am the gratitude of the heavens opening up. I am. Grateful. Thankful. Blessed.

This is my morning prayer.

In blessed gratitude, I give thanks.

The question is: What's your morning prayer?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Happines is a bowl full of cherries...

My friend CZ posted the following quote on her blog:

"Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way... that is not easy." ~Aristotle.

I don't do anger well. Growing up with a father for whom anger seemed to be a natural state of being, my ability to express anger is tainted by my past experience. Anger doesn't end. Anger is ugly. Anger hurts. Anger is too emotional.

Don't do being emotional that well either, come to think of it.

Being emotional is like my mother. Often sad. Often teary-eyed. Often depressed.

So, what does that leave me?

A state of flux. A confused box of emotional tools I parade around on different occasions.

Do happy. Yup. I do happy well.

"Hi! Life is grand." Smile. "I'm terrific." Smile some more.

Happy is a habit. Happy is a safe place for me to be. Happy makes me happy.

French philosopher and writer, Albert Camus wrote, "You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life."

So, here's to no longer looking for the 'right' emotion. Here's to expressing my emotions through the happiness of knowing, I'm okay, whatever I'm feeling.

Here's to expressing anger in appropriate ways that do not undermine or devalue the other person. Here's to expressing anger in the moment, without fear the moment will last forever.

Nothing lasts forever, not even anger.

Happiness, however, is always within my reach when I quit struggling to define it, analyze it, or contain it.

It's cloudy today. And still I'm happy. I'm living in a bowl full of cherries, spitting out the pits.

The world outside is lush. Green invades. The scent of flowers in bloom tease my senses with heady aromas.

Life is good.

I don't need the definition of happiness to know I'm feeling it, right now, in this moment.

And when anger comes, as it sometimes will, or sadness seeps into my thinking, I'll be okay too. Like the sun behind the swollen grey clouds above, happiness is a constant, even when anger roars or sadness rains upon my parade.

The question is: How willing are you to let your emotions flow confident in your ability to stay grounded in the truth that life is what you make it, a bowl full of cherries, or a bowl of pits? Which will you choose today?

Friday, June 6, 2008

She's Back!

Her itinerary said, Flt 220, Arr. 7:30pm.

The online flight locator said, Flt 220, Arr. 6:25pm.

We didn't check the online flight locator until 5 to 6. We made a mad dash to the airport and made it just as Flt 220 was landing. We waited. And waited. No Alexis.

Was something wrong? The next flight arrived at 7:30pm. Hmmm, same time as her itinerary. Different flight no.

I asked at the airline desk. Could it be possible she's on the other flight? No one seemed to understand my concern. She was originating from Bangkok twenty-four hours before, connecting to Vancouver through Hong Kong. I had her PRN (a special passenger locator number), but the PRN was from a different airline. It didn't help.

I called my sister, J. She and her husband were planning on coming to the airport to meet Alexis too. She used to work for the airline. Maybe she'd have better luck getting information out of them. Half an hour later, she arrived, itinerary in hand and approached the airline desk. The woman checked the sheet and said, "This PRN is not from our airline."

J. explained our dilemma. "Can you tell us if she's on the next flight?"

"No. But I can tell you the next flight is the scheduled flight that connected with the flight your niece was on from HongKong."

Isn't it amazing how fear works?

While waiting for my sister and her husband, my mind skirted dangerously close to possibilities I didn't want to think about. Kidnapped. Hi-jacked. Held up at immigration being the least deadly of my thoughts.

Go away, I told my critter's mind. Leave me alone.

The critter had other ideas.

I phoned C.C. He had intended to be at the airport just as I had intended to be at his daughters awards ceremonies -- that is, until we both realized we couldn't be in two places at once.

"She's okay," he said to my hurried description of my missing daughter. "She's on the next flight. The travel agency probably just got the flight number wrong."

I wanted to scream into my cellphone. "Just got it wrong? This is more than just getting it wrong! This is awful!"

Instead, I agreed. "You're right. I'll wait for the next flight."

I told myself I wouldn't panic until after the next flight arrived. My sister agreed. Let's hold off hitting the panic button, for now. The other three were sanguine. JW and Liseanne played video games. My sister's husband found a seat to sit on and waited calmly.

The anticipation (with threads of anxiety wafting through) mounted.

Liseanne, my sister and I waited at the arrival's gate as the passengers disembarked. Alexis' boyfriend JW and my sister's husband went down to the baggage carousel so JW could hide.

We watched the people come through the exit doors. Beside us, a large unruly family stood with a box of donuts, and a huge sign that read, Welcome to Canada. They kept blocking our line of sight. Liseanne and I kept leapfrogging for a better vantage point.

A man walked through the doors. A Woman. Family. Couple. Man. Man. Couple. Couple. Family..... Alexis!!!!!

She was crying. Liseanne raced in front of me. Threw her arms around her sister's neck and hugged and hugged and hugged.

She's back.

All is well.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Broken Up. Broken Down.

He's in his thirties. Spent a vast majority of his adult life in 'the lock-up'. Four years out he knows where he never wants to go again. "But I don't know where I want to go now," he told me yesterday during a course I teach on Self-esteem that is part of a job-skills training program at the shelter where I work.

"Anywhere but here," piped up a good-looking younger man who was part of the course. "All I want is to get my tickets, get a job and get out of here."

The older man responded quickly. "But I like it here. I've been institutionalized most of my life. This place makes me feel safe. I've got a community here. People who understand me. I ain't got nothing out there." And he motioned with his left arm to the verdant green river valley and tree-covered hillside beyond the windows of the sixth floor training room where we were meeting.

The man beside me joined in the conversation. In his twenties, he's been 'in and out' since 'juvie'. He's on parole, out since March. He too knows where he never, ever wants to go back.

"I need this place," he said. "I need to do something different 'cause getting angry, going to jail is not working for me anymore. And 'out there', I risk getting angry." In front of him sat a worn and tattered copy of Don Miguel Ruiz', The Four Agreements. Slid between the pages were his hand-written notes, proof of his laborious efforts to transcribe the agreements and their definitions. "No one ever taught me this stuff," he told the class, after reading his notes out loud. "My mom said she knew I was gonna be bad right from the moment I was born. I don't wanna be bad."

Stories of the street. Of lives in disarray. Lives on the mend. Stories of men for whom the only break they ever had was with the law. Bustin' it. Breakin' it. They end up broken down. Broken up. Living lives of broken promises. Broken families. Broken dreams. No where else to go. They end up here. At a homeless shelter. Struggling to put back together something they'd never had before. Their lives free of the past.

The perspectives were vast. Cultural differences diverse. Ethiopia, South Africa. The former Czech Republic. Belarus. 'Hardened criminals'. Youth.

Vast differences. Similar stories. Gotta get going. Gotta get real. Gotta quit what I'm doing and find something better. Gotta find a way out of this place to somewhere else.

"I don't dream," said one man. "Dreamers are fools. God doesn't like dreamers."

"I gotta dream," said another. "If I don't got dreams, I may as well just pack it in right here."

"Yeah," chimed in another. "Dreams are free. No one ever put you in jail for dreaming."

Sometimes the dream is as simple as never having to panhandle again.

"I've done it a few times," said the man who'd spent a lot of time doing time. "I hate it. It's embarrassing."

He looked at me. Smiled. His face lit up. Boyish. A child with no front teeth, the gap where once his used to be was wide.

"It would have been easier to hold someone at knife point and tell them to give me the money. But I don't wanna do that. That way's a ticket back to jail."

The exigencies of the street. Pan-handling to stay out of jail. Pan-handling for bus fare because the employer refused you the job. Worn out shoes. Worn down spirit.

At the end of the class I asked each participant to write themselves a letter. "Make it a love letter," I told them. "Make it something that will support you. Give you strength when you're down. Write what you'd like to hear from your mom, or dad, grandmother that maybe you've never ever heard."

They hesitated. Joked. Laughed. Love letter? To myself? Never wrote one to no girl. Why would I write one to myself?

"Because you deserve it," I said. "Because you need to put on paper the words you need to hear about how amazing you are, not the ones your mind keeps repeating about what a loser you've become."

Still they hesitated. Slowly, one by one, they began to write.

The quiet in the room was profound. Concentration. Fear. Hope.

"Can I read my letter to the group?" asked the man who was on parole.

"That is your choice," I told him. "Do you want to?"

"Yes," he replied.

I asked the group, "Are you willing to listen with open hearts and minds?"

Everyone nodded their heads.

The man smiled. Haltingly he began to read. I felt tears pricking at the back of my eyes. My heart soften.

I watched his face as he read. Focused. His brow furrowed. One finger following the words he'd written on the page.

I could see him swallow. Clench his teeth and keep on reading.

Words he needs to hear. A story he wants to tell. A dream he wants to live.

We were silent when he finished. Silent. And in awe.

Real lives finding themselves in a place where no one ever wants to end up. Homeless. Lost. Frightened. Alone.

Real lives coming together to find a common goal of moving on. Moving forward. Moving out in spite of the fear. Out from a place where courage is born. Where dreams unfold.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Homelessness sucks

Olympic athlete, Dan O'Brien said, "The only way to overcome is to hang in."

For most of the clients at the homeless shelter where I work, hanging in, hanging out, hanging on, is all they can do.

Direction is a place called confusion. Purpose an upside down world of despair. They don't know what they're going to do to fix the mess their lives are in, but wait, 'Hey buddy, Gotta fix?' And someone answers. Someone always does when you're livin' on the dark side of the street.

"You gotta find a new direction. Get a job." society tells them. Frigthened, they run away. Can't they see? This is the only direction they've ever known. Their lives have led them to this. How can they find a 'new' direction when they don't know how to change the direction they've always gone. Down. Down to the street. To street level. To outside looking in. To never havin', always takin'. It. Us. Them. They don't know if there's a place they can go where despair will let them off the hook of desperation. They don't know.

And so they hang in, hang out, hang on.

On Sunday, 150 youth (16 to 28) from a faith-based organization came in to volunteer for the day. They sorted clothes, washed walls, cleaned up garbage, took a tour of the facility. They made a difference and still they wanted to know, what more can we do to end homelessness?

Now that's a complex question with a diversity of answers. The simple answer is: we can't.

The complex answer is: Depends upon for whom.

Is it the guy who has been chronically homeless for most of his adult life and who, at 55, collects bottles in order to earn enough money to buy a bottle of schlock that will last him, maybe a couple of hours, maybe the night? He used to have a place. One room. Hot plate. B&W TV. He was content living his life the way he wanted. But that place was sold. Turned into a multi-story glass and metal office tower. He had no place to go. And so, he comes here, to the shelter whenever he wants to get in from the cold or needs a meal.

Is it the woman who has turned to selling her body to support the addiction that's destroying her beauty, just as 'the trade' has destroyed her spirit? She had a home once too. It had a family in it. Husband. Two kids. The husband was good for nothing. Well, almost nothing. He threw a mean left hook. She only ever wanted the best for her kids.She couldn't give it to them. She didn't know how. Got rid of the husband. No big loss. Lost the kids. It almost destroyed her. And now, she's living on the abyss of despair, on a suicide mission with her life on the line. Maybe one day, she says, but not today. I'm not ready.

Is it the young guy, 18, who ran away at age 14 and has survived the streets on his own by sheer wits? He uses and yes, we think he deals on the side. He started dealing to support himself and now he's hooked. We've never caught him dealing. We only think he does. We could bar him, but where would that leave him? No place to stay. Desperate. Who knows what he'd do. He's never been caught with drugs in the building. He volunteers. Helps out. Hangs on.

Or what about that guy, over there, the one in the wheelchair. We put his name in for a new program designed to house the 'difficult to house'. They turned him down. 'He has a history of violence,' they said. Violent? He also has a history of a mental illness. He cannot help himself. Look at him. He's 65. Feeble. Confined to a wheelchair. He's dying. He needs help and he needs a level of care we can't provide. 'They' never interviewed him. Never met with him. They read his file and turned him down. How do you end the homelessness he's living when the only agency with the capacity to do so won't accept him because a paper file says he doesn't fit their mandate?

Is it that woman, over there, the tall one, died red hair, slim, open sores on her face? She's 66. A lifetime of abuse. Her last husband died and she was evicted. She had a place just awhile ago. Isolated. Lonely. Scared. She started drinking again. It got bad. Real bad. And now she's back. She hates it here but she hated it more when she was alone. She's got mental health issues. To live on her own she needs a multiple of supports. We don't have the resources to supply them and she too doesn't fit the mandate of any other agency in town.

We talk about ten year plans and our commitment to 'end homelessness'. We talk about the cost, the financial burden and the strain 'the homeless' place upon our society. But we don't talk about the people. The unique individuals whose lives have been decimated by abuse, divorce, family violence, addictions, mental health disorders and a host of other problems.

We talk about ending homelessness but we don't talk about ending the financial drive that underlies the tearing down of existing low-income housing stock, or the gentrification of our inner cities that is pushing the very people we say we want to help out to the edges of our communities.

Outside looking in.

It is the plight of those who lack the economic, political and physical will to fight for themselves. Whose resources have been drained and whose energy has been expended fighting for that next fix, that next trick, that next inch of ground where they can make a stand if only for a moment, to catch their breath, sell a trick, buy a toke. Maybe once upon a time they made a choice that brought them down to street level. Too long looking at the dirt, the choice to get back up is too far gone on the road to desperation. Up is too far away. Up is an unknown direction.

And so they fall down. Further and further from where they wanted to be, long ago when they had the choice to go somewhere else other than where they're at, hanging in, hanging out, hanging onto a table at a homeless shelter where they feel a part of a community that cares about the fact they're alive, living a life nobody wants.

Homelessness sucks.

Homelessness saps you of energy. It tears away the fabric of your life, exposing your underbelly to the grit and grime of an existence no one would wish upon even their worst enemy.

Homelessness kills.

Spirit. Health. Will.

End it?

Yes please. Pass me the needle. Give me the hit that will end the futility of all of this.

But please, save me your diatribe about how I gotta get out of this place.

This place is the only place that has ever held me long enough to give me a chance to figure out where I'm at.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Home where ever I am in the world

Essayist, poet and novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant."

This morning, I received a call from my eldest daughter, Alexis, in Thailand. She's on the final two days of her trip. Getting ready to come home. Getting ready to keep travelling.

"I want to come home," she said. "But I want to get travelling again as soon as I'm back."

It's four months since she left to travel through Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. In her travels she has come to the realization that it's a great big world out there. So much to see. So much to do.

It is a big world. And there are lots of sights to see, lots of experiences to live. The day isn't judged on where we've been. It's measured in the steps we take, the ideas we expand upon, the seeds of hope, of courage, of possibilities we plant.

The journey is life. The destination, anywhere in the world we are.

When I was in my twenties, I travelled from Germany, into Austria, northern Italy through the then Yugoslavia, over the top of Albania, into Greece. The journey was an exciting adventure, a chance to 'see' the world through different glasses. We were tourists, but we had a place of residence on an island. A professor at the university had loaned my friend and me his home near Yaltra for a couple of months. I remember feeling so far from home. So far from life as I knew it.

Under the hot Aegean sun, cicadas rattled their tiny wings, the metallic noise of their vibrations filling the air with clatter. Olive trees shimmered in silvery hues in the sunlight. The land was parched and dusty. The air filled with the scent of lemon and jasmine. Heady. Musky. Ripe.

One day, I drove around the island by myself. I felt apart. Foreign. Different. I parked my little red mini at the edge of a small town and stepped out onto the dusty road. Whitewashed houses lined the street, marching down the hillside to the sea below. The sky soared into blue infinity above me. Sparkling water stretched out to the horizon, glistening under the sun.

It was hot. Black clad women sat on doorsteps. Their scarves firmly tied at the base of their necks. Children played on the street. It was safe to be there in a town of few cars. In a place where electricity had finally reached across the strait only a few years before.

As I walked into town, I searched my mind for the few Greek phrases I'd learned. Kali merra. Good-morning. Kali spera. Good evening. Piccolo. Little. There were others but in the intervening years they have faded from memory.

The memory of one woman I met has never faded.

She sat on her front step. A large metal bowl filled with potatoes by her side. Deftly wielding a paring knife, she peeled the potatoes and dropped them into another metal bowl filled with water.

She watched me approach. I smiled. Nodded my head. She nodded back, the dark pools of her eyes shining from amidst the wrinkles lining her face. I wondered who she was. I wondered if she'd sat on that step all her life. I wondered if she'd had dreams. Had she ever moved off the stoop? Left her village? Had she ever seen the world?

"Nice day out today," she said as I walked past. There was a strong Brooklyn accent to her voice. I remembered a friend in Germany who spoke English with a Texan twang. He'd learned it from a Texan girlfriend years before.

I stopped. Surprised. I turned back to look at her.

"Yes. It is."

"You should be wearing a hat," she said, using her paring knife to motion towards my head. "Sun's hot."

"Oh." I paused. "You speak English." Sometimes, I surprise even myself with the obvious.

"Yeah. Lived in New York for thirty years. I've come home to die. It's where I belong."

She motioned to the step beside her. "Sit down. Have a chat. I don't get much chance to speak English these days."

I sat and we chatted. She told me of her work in New York for 'some of those artsy farsty people'. "They were always throwing parties," she said. "More money than common sense." She sighed. "My son's are still there." Silence. She grimaced, but said no more about her sons. "My daughter is here. I come home to her. Daughters are a mother's gift."

I asked her about her village. It was the town she was born in. The town she had left as a young bride when her husband uprooted the family to plant them on foreign soils. She told me about the arrival of electricity. Of the few phones in the village. Of the daughters and sons moving away, just like she had. Of the old people coming home. Just like she had.

"New York was never home," she told me. "This is my home. This is where my heart has always been." She lifted her paring knife again and pointed to the white washed buildings. The sea beyond. The olive trees. The flowering lemon branches. The red flowers in painted pots. The blue shutters on open windows. "It doesn't matter where we go, we always have to come home to where our heart belongs."

I haven't thought about that woman's words in a long time. But talking to my daughter this morning, reading her blog, I am reminded of the power of the heart's yearning to come home no matter where in the world we are.

Alexis has been around the world and now she comes home. I have travelled to far away places and found my home where I belong, right where I am at.

In our journeys, we encounter adventure and people and sights and sounds we've never before experienced. We find stories to tell and tales yet to unfold. We see possibilities and impossibilities. And through it all, we travel into the heart of who we are when we're alone on this lonely planet looking for answers that were always there inside us. Where ever we are in the world, we can always be home when our hearts are full and we are at peace with ourselves.

A wise old woman sitting on a stoop in a foreign land told me that long ago. She had travelled the world to find herself once again, home where she belonged.

The question is: Where does your journey take you? Where are you at home?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Rainy days and Mondays

Written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, The Carpenters sang, 'Rainy days and Mondays always get me down' to million dollar success.

Not sure that the blues are worth that much!

Me, I like rainy Mondays. I love the gentleness of the air, the whisper of the breeze, the sound of birds twittering in the trees. I love the feeling of coziness in my bed -- which probably explains why getting up this morning took so much more effort than normal!

In fact, I'm late writing this, late getting dress, late getting on with my day!

Funny how a clock can dictate where I need to be and what I need to be doing to 'make my day' happen.

Someone once said that it's more important to make every hour in the day count than to count the hours in the day.

So, for today, whether I'm late or early, I shall make the time I'm spending being where I'm at count.

I shall count on me to fill each moment with life. Fill each second with love and attention. Fill each step with loving care.

I get to choose how I go through my day.

Rainy or not, here I come. Excited, filled with eager anticipation of the wonders about to unfold.

Rainy days and Mondays. My kind of day. A day of mystery. A day yet to be experienced. A day to live outside my comfort zone, exploring all the wonders of the world around me with open arms and seeking mind and questing spirit. A day to leap into the void of not knowing what the future holds as I create the best day of my life yet.

The question is: Who's in control of your day? Who determines what kind of day you have? You, or the weather? Someone else or something else? Who knows?