Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is only a moment

Endings and beginnings.

Beginnings and endings.

There is none without the other. One without none. None without one. There is only One.

There are always beginnings and endings. Mixings and matchings. Mergings and meldings. Innings and outings to create the beginning that never ends except in Love.

In one of Stewart McLean's Vinyl Cafe stories, he quotes a character, a fortune-teller, as telling young Sam when he asks what should he do if he doesn't like the way an event in his life ended, that, it's not over if it doesn't end well. Everything always ends well, she says. It's the law of the universe.

Sometimes, we just have to wait a little longer to find the ending that fits into the beginning to give us our good ending to a new beginning.

Perhaps it is true of relationships. We can't see that this 'ending' is the wellness of it all making room for the ending that fits the new beginning. This place that hurts. This smelly, cluttered, strewn with prickly burrs and fraught with soft spots that ache beneath the touch is actually, the good part waiting for the ending that fits well. It is the heart softening. The aches and pains of endings quickening into time passing into the next moment to become the old only to become new again.

In our angst over what is lost, over what is left undone, unsaid, unfinished, unsettled, we forget that everything ends well. It is the law of the universe. We just have to wait a little longer for the part where the 'it ends well fits' right into the part where it ends well.

Alls well that ends well.

Especially in love.

Because, love never ends. It can't. Love is infinite. It is our ability to sustain being loving. To keep love flowing between two lovers that comes to an end and puts an end to the story of love between two people.

I imagine an old fashioned telegram.

Love died today. Full Stop.
Send reinforcements. Full Stop.

And then, the time for reinforcements ends and all that is left is to begin tidying up, moving over and under and into the cleaning up of what is left of the love between two people. But never the ending of love. Love doesn't die.

I told my eldest daughter yesterday afternoon as we talked about the end of my relationship with this man whom I love but will no longer be loving in the active tense. The tenseness of what has come to pass has ended our passing through this time together, "This too shall pass."

She replied, "I prefer, 'This is only a moment.'"

"Did you write that?" I asked.

She smiled. "No. I heard it on Oprah." She paused. "You know mom. Everything worth saying is on Oprah."

Joan Didion didn't say it on Oprah but it's worth saying none-the-less, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."

There's a story I can't tell anymore that I've lived on and with and inside and outside and within for awhile. It's a story that gave me a different life. I liked it. I didn't like all parts of it. That's the story of a relationship. Finding the good to overlook the not so good. Finding the parts that fit to create a good end to every day fitting together no matter the not so good parts in the day.

I struggled for some time to find my fit in this story. I struggled against the growth of being part of this story where I became half of a whole while still struggling to remain whole in my whole life.

Ultimately, it is in relationship where I grow the most. Stretch the most. Claim the most of me. Relationship shines a light on those parts I never see when just communing with me. Those parts where I do not bother to go or explore or venture into when travelling alone with just me. I don't need those parts with me when I go alone. Alone I get along with me. No problem. I like me. I like being alone. When I am alone, I am one.

In my together story, I must balance me with him. Me with us. Me with together forever.

Forever is a long long time.

I got me babe. Forever.

You've got you, babe. Forever.

It's you and me together that don't got no more. Forever.

Ah, but, he says. I believe we are meant to be together. I just need to go this part alone.

For how long?

Until I know.

Know what?

When I get there.

Ah. You can't have me both ways. I'm in it. Or I'm not. Included. Excluded.

I'm not.

In-cluded.

I'm out.

Outside looking in.

Inside looking out.

No matter where I look at it, I am part of my story continuing on. Just whole in a whole other way.

This part of the story that has ended? It's just a story where I create the ending -- my choice. Good ending. Bad ending. I determine the fit. Good. Bad. This part of the story that is now done? This part where I was part of a couple. A his and her matched set of towels. The other half of a whole relationship. The never needing a date for those special occassions because I've got you and you've got me, babe. The half of a whole lot of something I thought I knew but forgot what it was until I couldn't put it all back together again. The whole of my 100% I put into the story I told myself in order to live in the relationship regardless of whether I was feeling a 1 or a 2 or a seven or a ten. I did my best. And now it's done.

I'm done.

With this part.

But never the whole.

In the end, what was wholely a relationship became two parts. Perhaps, it never was one whole part and always two parts looking for the fit to create an ending to being alone. Perhaps, it had too many holes. Or perhaps we didn't treat it holy enough. Regardless of its holes or how whole it was or wasn't, now 'it' is over.

This too shall pass.

A story has ended. A new story begun. Both parts of the story fit together. There is no ending of my part. Just the his and her part. My part now continues with me whole again, alone. One.

This new part of the whole story of my life is about me moving on. Moving beyond. Moving into another story I tell about my life. The story today is filled with the sadness and the sorrow of breaking apart.

A broken heart is an open heart and an open heart is a loving heart. It is one with Love.

Tomorrow's story will be different. Tomorrow's story is not yet written.

For today. It is New Year's Eve. I'm fighting the flu and the ennui of a relationship that couldn't survive year's end. Or perhaps, the flu part is just a bit part in this feeling of sadness, of being overrun, overwhelmed, over-tired.

I'm facing an ending I've avoided for awhile with trying to remain calm and patient. In that place where I am without expectation.

Recently I told him, "I quit". I quit trying to fix you. Force you to open up. I quit trying to breach your walls. I quit trying to let you in. Or keep you out. I am choosing instead to just be. To be in this moment. In this relationship the way it is.

The moment passed and I returned to trying.

Too hard. Too much. Too little. Not enough.

I returned to trying and forgot about the moment.

And now, this too shall pass.

This is only a moment.

And my life is filled with too many glorious moments to be overshadowed by only this moment. For this moment I shall feel the sadness and be at One with Love. In my whole life there are too many moments of joy to sink my teeth into any story that doesn't end well.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A hug

A hug overcomes all boundaries. It speaks words within the mind that cannot be spoken. Unknown
As I left the building Monday evening, I stopped on the fourth floor of the shelter where I work to deliver a Christmas WishList gift that had not yet been received.

I'd run into "Mike" on the elevator earlier that day. "Did you fill in a Christmas Wish?" I'd asked him as we rode up from the first floor together.

He stooped over his walker, his toothless grin punctuated with a few widely spaced tobacco stained teeth. His blue eyes looked at me then looked at the ground. "Yeah. But once again. I got nothing."

I was surprised. It was a stellar year for the WishList, a project operated by a church group here in the city. Volunteers come in before Christmas, interview clients and then post their stories and Christmas Wishes online at www.homelesspartners.com . When I'd checked on Christmas Eve there were very few unsponsored gifts. Those that hadn't been sponsored, we'd made arrangements to ensure the individuals received a gift.

"Let me check into it," I told him.

He eyed me sceptically before getting off on the third floor where he would spend the day in Day Sleep -- sleeping accommodation for those who worked nights or had medical permission to rest during the day.

I checked. He'd been sponsored and his gift had arrived. He'd misunderstood the process of claiming it and it had been put into general donations.

At the end of the day I stopped off on the 4th floor, one of two Transitional Housing floors in the building. Men and women who are moving forward in their plans to reclaim independent living, have a permanent bed as they gather their resources to move out. Mike's health and age made it difficult for him to move on. His bed was permanent for as long as he needed it. I found Mike chatting with a group of fellow residents. I handed him the envelope containing the gift card to a local store.

He looked surprised. Shocked almost.

He stared at the envelope. His blue eyes looked into mine. "Thank you Ms Gallagher," he said. "I didn't expect this."

"Expect the unexpected and you'll never be disappointed," I told him with a smile. "Can I give you a hug?" I asked.

He smiled his toothy grin. "I'd like that even better than the gift," he replied.

I hugged him and turned to leave. Another client sat waiting for me in his wheelchair . "Can I talk to you for a minute please?" he asked.

That minute turned to twenty. He was upset. Angry. Disappointed. Feeling defeated. Something had happened that highlighted the frailty of the human condition and our inability to always be consistent in our service delivery model.

He vented and spewed, and through it all I heard his frustration. His sadness. His hurt at the unfairness of it all. Of life. Of being homeless. Of being poor. I heard his anger with himself. With his condition. His temporary placement in a wheelchair after a fall badly bruised both his knees.

"I wasn't drinking," he said. "Honest."

"You don't have to defend yourself," I replied. "I'm so sorry this happened to you."

I asked him what I could do to help resolve the situation that had caused him so much anger. "There's nothing anyone can do," he said. "I should never have trusted someone else. I should have just listened to myself."

"I'd still like to help," I replied.

He shook his head. "It's too late. The damage is done."

"Can I have two days to see what we can do to resolve this for you?" I asked.

He sighed. "Sure. Why not."

"In the meantime, can I give you a hug?"

He looked at me surprised. "That would be better than anything," he replied.

A hug.

A simple gesture of connection. Caring. Touch.

Later that evening, I received an email from a staff member informing me he'd had a long chat with the client in the wheelchair. "We've found a solution," he said. "Just wanted to let you know, everything's okay."

Regardless of the outcome, the hug still stands. A simple gesture of connection. Caring. Touch.

Last Christmas my eldest daughter, Alexis, was one of the volunteers interviewing clients for the WishList. An elderly gentleman sat down to be interviewed and when asked, "What would lift your spirits this Christmas?" he replied, "A hug."

Alexis stood up and gave him one and he began to cry.

Living in Vancouver, she's taken to offering individuals on the street hugs. She's made them cry. She's cried herself.

A hug.

A simple gesture of affection. Caring. Touch.

A connection.

Heart to heart.

A reminder that we are all connected.

And sometimes, all it takes to connect in a heartfelt way with another is to offer them a hug.

Try it today. Offer a hug when least expected and surprise yourself.

You'll be amazed by the results.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Time Passing (a poem)

beginnings

I am totally enjoying meeting new friends, new opportunities here in blogsphere. Enjoying the chance to stretch my creative muscles and challenge my psyche. Today, on Maureen's blog, Writing Without Paper, she invited readers to take a wander over to High Calling Blogs latest writing project: Beginnings

The link Maureen provided took me to L.L. Barkat's blog, Seedlings in Stone -- a beautiful place to visit and spend some time sinking into beauty -- where I found the directions and the link to the Beginnings Writing Project at High Calling Blogs.

This is my entry.


Time Passing


It arrived at midnight
fell into place
with the finality of
the minute hand
passing
over
the hour
clicking
the cogs
of time
into place.

It arrived
and passed away
on a breath
inhaled
on a moment
of indecision
between
that time
when
time
stood
still
it passed
in the sweep
of a hand
over the face
of time
passing by.

In one fell swoop
a new day
arrived
and time
began
again
to pass
away
into yesterday
through
that door
where
what was to be
resolved
remained
unresolved
into that time when
what was possible
disappeared
into filling time
and space
with things
left
unsaid
undone
unresolved.

Time passed
away
yesterday
vanished
into
today
beginning
with a moment
when
time drew tomorrow
closer.

Love is... ( a poem)

Today's word over on Peter Pollock and Bridget Chumbley's , Blog Carnival is: Love.

Four letters. Big word. Big emotion. Big question?

It has been called a 'many splendoured thing'. A tempest in a teapot. A curse. An albatross. A gift.

Love is not a thing. A noun. An object.

Love is a verb. An action. A feeling. A bigger than a breadbox kind of emotion that sweeps you away on wings of joy or leaves you pining on a carpet of grief.

Love is...

A movie.
A Many Splendored Thing
... the only Solution
... a Crazy Thing
It's all about Love

...A book to be read.

Eat. Love. Pray.
Love Walked In
What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love

...A question to sing about

Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
What's Love Got To Do With It?
Can you Feel The Love Tonight?

...A song.

I Just Called To Say I Love You
A Groovy Kind of Love
You Always Hurt The One You Love

Love is...

...a mystery

Do You Know
How Deep Is Your Love?

Why Do Fools Fall In Love?


I Want To Know What Love Is.
...even while
I Can't Help Falling In love
...and you
Can't Buy Me Love.
...because
Love Will Keep Us Together.
...even when
You've Lost That Loving Feeling
...And I am
Taking A Chance on Love
...truth is
You Can't Hurry Love
...because
Love Takes Time
...and
I Just Can't Stop Loving You
...because I know
All You Need Is Love
...and we can't live
In a World Without Love
...so please
Don't Throw Our Love Away
...because
I'm Saving All My Love for You.
Long Live Love.
We give. We get. We talk about loving. Being loved. Lovable. Lovely. Love lost. Love forlorn. Love sick.
Yet, Love has no boundaries. No limits. No weight. No colour. No texture. No substance. No visible signs that it exists.

Yet, we all know it.

Feel it.

Sense it.

Want it.

Need it.

Give it.

Take it.

Keep it.

Release it.

Do You Love Me?
Don't You Love Me Anymore?
Where Did Our Love Go?


Love

Actually.

is

All you need

is

Love.
Love. Four little letters that evoke a tidal wave of thoughts, of images, of emotions. Of words tumbling out in their desire to be heard, to be seen, to be loved.

Love.

In love, anger abates. Darkness recedes. Anxiety grows dimmer.

Love drowns out fear. Love casts light on darkness. Love overcomes all.

No matter where I stand.

No matter what I read.

Or see.

Or hear.

Love conquers all.

Love Is...
All Around.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Where I am is where I'm at.

To be a discoverer you hold close whatever you find and after awhile you decide what it is and then, secure in where you have been, you turn to the open sea and let go. William Stafford
Maureen of Writing without Paper wrote the above quote on, Waiting at the Crosswalk, a blog by Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography. Diane's blog, and Stafford's quote resonated with my psyche. I'm in that place of finding balance in the tension between all things. Of searching for stillness in the midst of chaos. Of holding on... to nothing... but the moment... passing through.

It has been a disquieting place.

In the busy-ness of Christmas, the doing ups and goings on, I have lost my sense of balance. I have quit doing the things I know nurture my soul, nourish my spirit, and feed my internal flame. I have given only cursory consideration to my morning meditations, hurrying myself along with thoughts of, "I'll settle for five minutes grace and be done with it."

Finding grace in being done with it quickly is an oxymoron.

I have been living my own contradictions. I have let go of doing the things I know are good for me and giving into the things I know un-quieten me: eating the wrong foods, not going for walks, avoiding taking care of the little things in my life, falling into mind-chatter filled silence...

This morning, as I settled into a considered meditation, I let go of hurry and sank into that space within where I connect with peace, inside and out. I drifted down into that deep sensation of being at One with God within and God without. Of being the Yin/Yang of my creation. The dark/light of my essence. I settled into myself and awoke to the calling of my spirit's voice.

It was a wake up call. A reminder that no matter how busy the world around me, when I take time to nurture my eternal flame within, I create space to hear my inner wisdom speaking up, speaking for, speaking with my spirit's calling. I become conscious of my doings that are undermining my being my highest good -- those things that lead me into my goings on that devalue my greatest being.

Ahhhh.......

There is no one in this world who can create happiness within me. That's my job. My responsibility. I am 100% accountable for my goings on, doing ups and falling downs. I am 100% responsible for my words, actions, thoughts, deeds. I am accountable for me, myself and I.

No matter how much or how hard I attempt to abdicate my responsibility, when I'm feeling out of sorts, out of sync, off balance, off center -- it's me pulling me in whatever direction I'm going.

It's me keeping me from being where I'm at.

I breathe.

and sink

into that space

where I connect

to my eternal flame

burning up

the chaos

without

holding on

to my need

to be

anything

anyone

anywhere

other than

where and who I am.

I breathe

and find myself

again

where I began

at the centre

of my being

all I'm meant to be

when I let go

of being

anyone

other than

who I am.

The question is: Are you avoiding doing the things that nurture you? Feed you? Nourish your spirit and calm your being? When will you decide to stop?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Charter for Compassion

This just in from my friend Joyce's blog: Go here to read up and learn about the Charter for Compassion. Sign it and be part of creating a more compassionate world. I did.

The Perfect Christmas

There’s no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves. Frank Herbert
Like a wave washing over me, I float on the joy and sadness of another Christmas, come and gone. It was a Christmas of firsts, some of which will, hopefully, never become seconds. Alexis came home from having moved 'away'. Amidst the flurry and clutter of her arrival the house became a busy zone of people calling, dropping by. Of gift wrapping and decorating (I didn't want to put the tree up until she came home).

Work at the shelter was busier than ever with media calling on a daily basis for updates on our preparations and Christmas WishList gifts and queries creating a constant thrum of activity. Presentations. School visits. Tours and just the daily plethora of things to do to keep all the balls in the air, and all the wheels turning smoothly. It was a busy time.

Christmas Eve arrived and I was still plugging up a few more holes, filling in a couple of blanks for Christmas at the shelter before turning my sites to Christmas at home. In a flurry of one more thing to buy, one more gift to get, I left for the mall mid-afternoon to grab a couple more stocking stuffer, oh no, make that 3 as I balanced out what was for Alexis and Liseanne and C.C.s daughter too. I raced to the grocery store to grab a few more items and still forgot to pick up that one necessary ingredient -- you know that one essential item that adds every ounce of flavour to a dish because without it, the entire meal will be flat and unmemorable!

Fortunately, C.Cs son T. sprang to the rescue and took off in my car to pick up fresh berries -- only to call me an hour later from his third grocery store where fresh berries had long since left for other Christmas tables. Scratch the berry dish from the menu and replace with.... OMG what can I bake in a couple of hours that doesn't contain gluten, meat by-products and dairy? Oh right. I've already made the chocolate brownies with rice flour. They'll work if I just thaw some.....

Another kitchen catastrophe averted, I raced for a shower, flinging my body between water drops in a bare minimum of time as I got ready to join C.C. at friends for a Polish Christmas Eve. Stop! I have to make the caviar pie. My one contribution to the meal. In a frenzy of chopping egg and onion, mashing avocado, I prepare my 'world famous' dish, race out the door only to send C.C. back for the tub of caviar chilling in the fridge. Caviar pie just wouldn't cut it without the main ingredient.

A joyful evening of friendship, tradition, laughter, great food, good wine and guitar playing and singing and music and joy and home again to wrap up presents and stuff stockings. The girls arrived home from Christmas Eve at their father's to find me surrounded by a mountain of unwrapped gifts and bows and crinkly paper. I hustled them out of the living room -- wait! I'm not ready yet.

Finally, just past midnight, the last bow affixed upon a box, I head to bed only to stop when I hear footsteps coming up from downstairs. It's Alexis and she's in tears. "Liseanne's sick and won't let me sleep with her," she sobs.

Since they were little girls, Alexis and Liseanne have slept together every Christmas Eve. Even last year when Alexis had moved out to live with her boyfriend of four years, she came home on Christmas Eve to sleep with her sister. It is their tradition. Their favourite thing to do Christmas Eve. They curl up in bed, watch their favourite Christmas flick, which has long been Love Actually, and giggle and laugh as they cuddle together in their new Christmas pajamas -- the one gift they can open before heading to bed Christmas Eve.

But this year, Liseanne is sick and doesn't want to share her bed, nor her germs, with her sister. Devestated, Alexis cries and I hug her. I even offer to sleep with her but, my generosity of spirit, not to mention my sense of humour, is lost on her broken heart. "That's not the same, mum," she cries. Fortunately, she knows it is her own tiredness which is making her cry and she heads to bed, alone and lonely on Christmas Eve as I too crawl off to take my "long winter's nap". But wait! What's that clatter? It's....

The ringing of the phone.

My heart beats frantically. For a moment I try to assess what's happening. My first thought -- something's happened to the girls, only to remember, they are both asleep under our roof. I leap from my bed to see what's the matter...

It's Liseanne from her downstairs bedroom.

"Can you bring me a bowl and some ginger ale please?"

I race to the kitchen grab a bowl and GA and race to her room. She's not just feeling sick. She's really sick. All night long. Every hour on the hour.

It was a long night. But! There was a blessing! I was way more organized than usual on Christmas Day. As I couldn't sleep between racing up and down the stairs, I spent the Night before Christmas, preparing, chopping, dicing and cooking, in between tending to Liseanne's needs. When our guests arrived Christmas Evening for dinner, I hadn't forgotten to make the trifle. I hadn't forgotten to put the chopped celery into the stuffing and I didn't have a frenzy of last minute prep to take care of -- I even had time for a shower and to put on some make-up!

When the fifteen of us, minus one as Liseanne spent the entire event lying on the living room couch wrapped up in a blanket, sat down to dinner, there was nothing missing. The cranberry salsa was chilled. The cranberry sauce jelled to perfection. The turkey was moist and hot. The roast potatoes, candied yams, sweet potato puree, turnip puff, brussel sprouts and..... and the counteless other dishes I'd prepared in my burst of midnight oil turned to kitchen energy were hot and ready to go all at the same time! The table was dressed to perfection. The picture frame place cards I'd decorated with jewels and flowers and glitter shone and sparkled in the candlelight. The tiny birds and angel cards scattered amongst the daisies of my centrepiece added a whimsical touch and the linen serviettes were even pressed!

Nobody went away hungry and nobody didn't have something they loved on their plate. And everyone got to take their picture frame home.

Oh. But I did forget to take any pictures and we did forget to open some gifts!

But it wasn't the gifts that made the evening. The evening was made up in the memories we created. It started with all the guests, along with Alexis, C.C., and his daughter going to the shelter to serve dinner to homeless clients before arriving home to enjoy our meal together. That's where the spirit of Christmas was created. In the sharing of what we had to ensure others had too.

And then, once dinner was over, it was the guitars and piano, the singing and laughing and dancing that truly made the evening a night to remember. In Alexis and Liseanne (whose spirits had started to perk up as the evening progressed) tradition, they dressed up not just one but two male guests as Marilyn Monroe, and convinced them to entertain us with lip-synching and dancing to "Santa Baby". It was divine! And funny! And part of a tradition that they started six years ago -- who knows why or how!

Our friends AJ and CS arrived for dessert with their four kids in tow and another friend arrived and then T's friends and a few others and suddenly, we had an entire jamboree going on!

It was fun and crazy and high-spirited and...

The perfect Christmas.

Now, to find me some of that balance. Where did I hide it in all the Christmas frenzy? Perhaps it got tied up in a bow and left beneath the Christmas tree.... Must go look. In the meantime....

Happy Holidays everyone. May your season be jolly and bright.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's what we do.

I wrote the following piece after Rob, one of our counsellors, came into my office to tell me about the most remarkable evening he'd had the night before. Intriqued with his story, I found 'the star' and asked her if I could share it. She smiled and said, Please do.

I share it with you this morning. A Christmas Gift from the human condition.


Like Good King Wenslaus of yore leading his page through the storm, Google Maps led the travelers through the deep and blowing snow towards the animal shelter. It was the second animal hospital they had tried that night of the storm. With Google Map in hand, they found the first one only to be informed they handled animals of the four legged kind, dogs and cats. Definitely not birds.

Their patient was a bird. A pigeon with a broken wing. She had fallen onto the smoke deck on the second floor of the shelter where I work. “She landed right in front of me,” Bernice said, her round face wreathed in a beautiful smile. “I couldn’t just leave her lying there. It was pretty obvious she was wounded. I had to save her.”

Bernice tucked the wounded bird under her vest where it snuggled into her armpit. “And then staff found out.” She chuckled. “It was the second time I was caught with a bird. The first one was a baby sparrow. They wouldn’t let me keep her. I was so scared for her. I let her go over by the trees along the river.” Pause. A sigh. “I hope she survived.”

When informed the pigeon would have to be put outside Bernice insisted she would go with it. “It won’t survive out in the cold,” she exclaimed. “I’ll go with it.”

Staff Carrie was persistent. ‘You can’t sleep outside Bernice. It’s too cold.”

But Bernice was not to be dissuaded. Finally, Carrie and another staff member, Jordan, convinced Bernice to allow them to take the pigeon, whom she now called ‘Little Bernie’ to the animal hospital. The floor was busy, the shelter crowded as it has been every night for months. Carrie and Jordan couldn’t leave the floor so staff Rob, a counselor on the fourth floor, leaped to the rescue.

“I’ll drive,” he said. And Bernice promptly announced she was going with him. She was not prepared to let the little bird go. And by this point, the bird was not prepared to let go of Bernice. It snuggled into her neck, nipping at her throat, burrowing deeply into her sweater.

“It was so amazing,” said Rob. “To watch Carrie caring for Bernice. Bernice caring for ‘Little Bernie’. It was a beautiful moment.”

With imminent death by cold weather averted, Bernice and Rob set out only to return, bird still in hand, to search again for another shelter that would take a pigeon.

“It’s sort of like our clients,” said Rob. “They don’t fit in or they’re intoxicated and the only place they can come to is the shelter. Driving Bernice and ‘Little Bernie’, I felt a real connection to the plight of our clients. Snow was blowing. We were lost. What were we to do to save this little bird?” He shakes his head. Clears his throat.

“At one point the pigeon was puffing and Bernice said, ‘It’s thirsty.’”

He pauses to let the emotion of the moment settle. “She let saliva collect on her tongue and drip into the pigeon’s mouth. And the pigeon opened its beak to receive her gift. Bernice was so scared it would die and there we were in a snowstorm, no visibility, no hope we’d find our way, even with Google Maps and there she was feeding the bird the only water we had, her saliva.”

He shakes his head again. “Finally, we were so lost, we realized we’d have to go back to the shelter and then, there we were." He laughs. "I was turning around in a parking lot to head back to the shelter, looked up and saw this big red cross glowing in the dark, snowy night. We were in front of the animal shelter.”

They took the bird inside and released it to the staff of the animal hospital. It didn't want to let go of Bernice. Bernice didn't want to let go of it but was finally convinced it would be best to let them care for it.

“It’s what a momma bird would have done for its child,” Bernice says. “Anything to keep it alive.”

It is like that at the shelter. ‘Anything to stay alive.’ “I just wanted to help it out,” says Bernice. ‘You know. Be its family while it needed care. It’s a small creature. A being. Just like us. We gotta take care of each other.”

Taking care. It was someone else’s lack of care that landed Bernice at the shelter six years ago. She was a construction worker. “I was cribbing,” she tells me, pride straightening her shoulders. “My co-worker up above loosened a bolt on some scaffolding and it crashed down upon me.”

That crash landed her a ride in an ambulance and time in hospital. “My back has never been the same. My shoulders were dislocated. My knees were already shot and now,” she shrugs and smiles, touches her long black hair. "There was a dent in my hard hat but it missed my head." Another pause. “I miss working. When I see the logo for the company I used to work for, I want to go back so bad. I miss working.”

“And I miss my kids,” she adds quietly.

And then she laughs. “But, it’s one day at a time. Calgary’s my home now. I’ve been here six years. This is my home.” She pauses. “I was just trying to help a little bitty bird. That’s what we do here. Help each other. We share. Laughter. Friendship. It keeps the spirits up.”

Keeping spirits lifted – it’s what we do here. No matter the weather. No matter the storm.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Miracle of Christmas

This is Christmas morning and I send to each of you my traditional Christmas message. Joy to the world. May your hearts be filled with love.

Over 2000 years ago, a mother and father huddled together in a tiny stable and witnessed the birth of their child. The story of the Christ child’s birth has lived throughout the years. It touches all our hearts, Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer. No matter if we believe He came to earth to ‘save our souls from Satan’s power’, or if he was simply a powerful prophet, or just a great man whose story has survived the ages, His birth represents the power of love to create peace in the world. The celebration of His birth every Dec 25 restores our spirits as we celebrate the miracle of life.

Christmas is a time to celebrate. To rejoice. To be joyful. A time when we are connected in love to the miracle of one child’s birth long ago that reminds us, every year, that we too are miracles of life inspired by the act of love that ignites our journey of life – in all its limitless possibilities.

Last night, as I wrapped presents and reflected on the meaning of Christmas, my spirit lifted. Sitting in my cozy living room, surrounded by twinkling lights and festive bows and crinkly wrapping paper, I felt connected to the millions of other parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers who wrapped and taped and lovingly placed gifts beneath a twinkling tree – a tree that we had decorated together with those we love as we shared in the joy of hanging each ornament, old and new, upon its fragrant boughs.

As I wrapped and hummed a Christmas melody (and sipped a glass of cheer!), I felt the power of Christmas surround me. As I placed a pretty bow upon each gift I thought about the person to whom I was giving and my heart was filled with love. In that love lay the true meaning of Christmas. It wasn’t in the gifts, or the giving. It didn’t lay in colourful disarray piled beneath the tree, but in the love that filled my heart as I thought about my daughters, family and friends whom I love so dearly and who mean the world to me and who create such meaning in my world.
What a miracle Christmas is! 2000 years ago a child was born and from His birth has grown this night where the world stops, and takes a collective breath as we join in a song of love, faith, hope and joy. 2000 years ago a child’s birth gave birth to my evening last night. I sat alone and felt the power of that moment touch me.

I took a deep breath and felt my heart expand in love. In that breath, I was connected by the circle of love into which I was born and which encircled my daughters as I embraced the miracle of their lives changing my life. For just as the Christchild was a gift of love for his parents, and ultimately the world, with my daughters' births I was given the greatest gift of all -- the awesome reminder that life is a miracle and each birth a precious gift of love; powerful, enduring, everlasting.

This Christmas, as I reflect upon my life, I am reminded, once again, of the power of love to heal, to make peace and to create miracles.

And that is the true meaning of Christmas for me. A celebration of birth, of life, of love. A healing. An awakening. A miracle that wraps us all in a never-ending circle of love.

Whatever your celebration -- Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Bodi day, the Fast of Ramadan, the ancient Sabbath - or a family-centered gathering, a Blessed Holiday to each and everyone of you. May your spirits be light, your hearts full of love and may your world be filled with the limitless possibilities of the miracle of your life as you live each moment, filled with love, gratitude and joy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Peace. Love and Joy.

Christmas Eve. The world awaits with anticipation the Christ Child's arrival.

Peace. Love and Joy.

Angels sing on high in heavenly chorus of exaltation. Alleluia. Alleluia.

And we wait.

Stars shine brightly. Bells jingle jangle. Children's laughter fills the air. Santa Claus is coming tonight.

The secular and the sacred align. The earth moves and the flame of hope is lit in the hearts of all mankind.

Hope for an end to war. An end to strife and pain and sorrow. Hope. For prosperity and abundance. For an end to hunger. An end to poverty. For new beginnings. For holy communion of spirit and heart. For Heavenly gifts reigning from on high.

Peace. Love and Joy.

We await.

The Christ Child's arrival. For Peace. Love and Joy to descend upon us.

Breathe deep into the night. Breathe deep into the beauty and the wonder of this season of hope.
No matter our faith, be it Baha'i, Judaism, Orthodox, Islamic, nontheist or Taoism, we await the wonder and the glory of a world of Peace. Love and Joy.


Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

*

My friend Maureen, over on her blog, Writing without Paper, posted a beautiful video this morning of Jan Richardson, artist, writer, spectacular human being. Inspired by medieval illuminated Books of Hours, she created a joyful Christmas story along with singer/songwriter Garrison Coles. Please take a few moments today to treat yourself to a quiet little moment where you can ground yourself in the wonder and the mystery of Christmas in An Illuminated Joy.

One of my favourite Christmas stories is Christmas in the Trenches. John McCutcheon sings his powerful song in this video below. It is a moving story of what can happen when we put down the guns of war and reach out with arms of peace. It is a true story. In a concert he was performing in Denmark, he once met survivors of this event. They came because they'd heard his song on the radio and wanted to hear the story, that none of their family believed, sung out loud. It is a story of Peace. Love and Joy appearing in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times.





May your day be filled with the quiet joy of peace descending in a world of love.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This is Love.

It has been a year of wonder. A year of sorrow. A year of joy. A year in which to grow, to bend, to lean into fear, to turn into the wind and take gusts of adversity on the cheek. A year to face tough times head on, never bending beneath the weight of life’s daily grind pounding away at our fortitude and commitment to making a difference.

It has been a year to leap for joy at unexpected moments cascading down upon our heads in rainbows of living colour. A year to laugh and shout and live out loud. It has been a year to embrace challenge and release regret. A year to welcome help from unexpected quarters, to walk away from disorder, chaos, pain. To stand firm on the shifting grounds of the world around us. A year to surrender anger and fall into love.

As we move into this season of faith, hope and joy let us embrace this time to heal, to forgive, to surrender. Let us begin again, renewed by our commitment to stand together in this season of peace on earth and goodwill amongst men.

In every season a little rain must fall.

And, as it does in northern climes, a little snow too!

This year we are promised a white Christmas. A Christmas where the sound of sleigh bells ringing on city streets is drowned out by the thrumming roar of snowplows clearing pavement for safe winter passage.

How the time's they do change.

Horses never had to worry about 360s and sliding into a snow drift while dashing through the snow .

How the time's they are a changing.

On Monday, my sister and I went to listen to my mother's hand bell choir at the lodge where she lives. About twelve seniors sat behind music stands positioned on the white table cloth in front of them and treated their audience of family members and friends and other residents to a flurry of Christmas Carols on their bells.

It took me back to my daughters' annual Christmas concerts and dance productions. Those special times when with eager anticipation we, their family and friends, waited for the lights to dim around us as the stage lights came up and there, before us, shiny and bright, stood our sons and daughters. Dancing. Singing. Acting. Reading poetry and Christmas tales, they graced us with the wonder of their magical beings here on earth.

Those were special times. Times I waited for almost as eagerly as my daughters. Sugar plum fairies and Santa's helpers, Alexis and Liseanne shone in the light of adoration -- not to mention they were the best one's on stage too! Okay. Just kidding. All the little girls and boys were spectacular. (My daughters just happened to be extra gifted! -- at least in my loving eyes.)

And that's the thing about Christmas concerts. We their beholders sit in wonder as we watch almost as intently as the performers sharing their lines, dancing their steps, singing their song. We watch for every nuance. Gasp with every high note hit. Sigh with relief for every line crossed off with grace and ease.

We sit in awe of our children standing on stage sharing their hearts so effortlessly and freely with us, their adoring audience.

On Monday, awe descended as I watched my mother, a tiny birdlike woman of eight-seven years of age, sit with rapt intent, reading the music, watching the choir master and ringing her bells.

The twelve members of the choirs sat with Santa hats firmly planted on their heads, facing the audience. The choir master stood at the front of the choir, her back to us. She motioned for C's and F sharps and B minors to be played. Her arms floated through the air with the grace of a dove in flight. Her head bobbed up and down in time to the music. The bell ringers' heads bobbed up and down. A foot tapped here and there. A hand played music on the table top. As the choir master motioned each player lifted her bell or pressed down on the stock and melodious sounds floated up into the air. Each face was a vision of concentration. Each hand poised in silent anticipation for that one motion, that one note that they needed to contribute to make the music ring forth in harmony.

And, like every choir, there was that one participant who played or sang or danced to the beat of a different drummer. That one person who couldn't quite get into the rhythm and left it up to the heaven's to find the harmony in their notes. With over-eager gusto, they lifted their bell and rang it whenever the spirit moved them.

And a joyous sound rang forth.

When my daughters were small some of my favourite times were those times in the quiet anticipation of the show about to begin. The lights would dim and there in front me they stood on stage. In the darkness of my audience seat I sat and watched without ever taking my eyes off them. Which, given that they used to think I was weird for wanting to just sit and watch them in awe, it was nice to have a legitimate excuse to just sit and watch!

There was no judgement in my watching. No looking for mistakes. Watching out for hidden meaning or slights of hand. I simply watched in awe.

My mother is frail and aged. It has been a long time since I sat and watched my mother with awe. I wonder where the awe went? I remember a time as a child when I watched her hands when she talked and thought, "How beautiful. They're like tiny birds in flight." I actually remember thinking, "I want my hands to move like that." And I learned to speak with my hands, just like my mother.

I don't spend a lot of time with mother these days. I still speak with my hands but I don't spend a lot of time speaking with her. My sister, Jackie, is her primary care giver. Jackie has the patience I lack. The compassionate heart and tender mercies needed to attend to my mother's needs with grace and ease.

For my mother and I, distance keeps us safe from harmful words that rend the harmony between us. I love my mother. But somewhere in the journey from childhood awe to adulthood, I've lost that special place to be at peace in her company. To sit in awe of her company.

Sitting in the audience though, I got to watch her without fear. I got to see her beauty. Her gentle spirit. Her lightness of being. I got to sit and watch in awe as she rang her bell and made beautiful music.

It was a magical moment. A moment of good tidings and joy. For wrapped up in that moment was the memory of all those special times when I could watch my daughters without fear of getting caught in adoration.

May we all be filled with adoration today. May we all know that special awe of sitting in silent wonder of those we love dancing and singing and joyfully expressing all that is beautiful and wondrous about them. May we see their wonder and know, This is Love.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A shining star

Day 12
The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the Shelter

On the 12th Day of christmas my true love gave to me....

There are some who suggest that this song is a code. Believed to have been written in the 16th Century, at a time when the religious wars in Britian made it perilous for a Christian to practise their faith. The 'gifts' are said to be code for the most important and relevant teachings of the faith. 'A partridge in a pear tree' represents Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 'Two turtle doves', the old and new testaments. 'Three french hens', Faith. Hope. Love, the three Theological Virtues of Christianity. (Go here to read all their meanings.)

Whether their meaning is fact or fiction, no matter where you are, hum a few bars and someone will chime in and bestow one of the gifts upon you.

At the shelter, Christmas blessings continue to arrive every day. From socks and hats and mitts and jackets, Calgarians are turning up in record number to bestow upon us the things that will make a difference in someone's life at the shelter.

Last week, I went to an elementary school (The photos are placemats they created for clients to use on Christmas Day -- Thank you Battalion Park School!) to give a presentation to students from K-6. At the beginning of my presentation, I always ask, "Do you have a dream about what you want to do when you grow up?" And the students always throw up their arms, wave their hands and call out, "I do." "I do." Doctor. Lawyer. Fireman. Hockey Player. Nurse. Astronaut.

No one ever tells me their dream is to become homeless. Or to become mired in an addiction that will steal everything you hold dear and leave you wasting on the streets. No one ever tells me that their dream is to one day walk into a homeless shelter looking for the EXIT sign to the other side of the street only to become lost in depression and despair.

Homelessness isn't a dream come true. It is mostly a nightmare.

This Christmas, as in year's past, the darkness of homelessness has been lifted by the generosity of those who work at the frontlines holding out hope for everyone who comes through our doors and those who stand behind them, supporting them, lifting them up and ensuring they have what is needed to care for the people we serve.

For our clients, that hope begins with accepting them where they're at and treating them with dignity and respect, no matter where that place may be. For our volunteers, hope is founded on the value our shelter adds to our community -- we create a safe place for those who have nowhere to go except the streets. We take care of those who have lost their place in their family circles. We take care of those others can't or won't care for. And, for our communities, our city, our world, hope translates into a kinder, more caring society. A place where no matter your economic, physical, spiritual, mental or emotional state, everyone finds a place to belong.

It is the 12th Day of Christmas. In liturgical practise, the gifts of the 12 days begin with Christmas and continue for twelve days to the Epiphany.

We've jumped the Magi and moved the gifts to flow into the Christmas spirit. It isn't about when the gifts appear, it is that they appear and cast light upon our journey.

Today, I share a gift from a beautiful woman who wrote a poem for those who walk the streets and those who take care of where they're walking. I've never met Maureen Doallas in person, but here, in this cyber world of words that reveal the essence of the beauty and joy and love within, she is a shining star amongst a heavenly choir of blessings on earth. Following her blog will lead you into a wondrous journey of the beauty and the sanctity of life on earth.

Homage to DI
Poem written by:
Maureen Doallas

Wanting:
not the kind
they know,
yet we know
they know.

Give us shelter.
And shelter we receive.

We need.
And so they provide.

We try.
And they say,
it's enough.

We give what we can
as we can
in return:

Remnants, mostly,
of dreams
we still follow
of circles we've
still to trace
back.

We begin
where they begin
with us:

A hand open
A hand given

It's enough.

Copyright Maureen Doallas

Monday, December 21, 2009

A time for every purpose.

Day 11
The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the Shelter

It is the time of sleigh bells ringing and mistletoe and ivy adorning every doorway.

It is the season of snowmen standing sentry on front lawns with carrot noses and button eyes peering fearlessly into the dark winter's dawn.

The time of rosy cheeks and frosty breath steaming up an icy window and icicles suspended upside down from rooftops and tree branches.

It is a time for love, faith and joy. For holiday spirits rising and temperatures falling as children snuggle in for a long winter's nap with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.

It is a time for hope.

A time when the Christian world awaits the promise of a Savior's birth who will rule the world in truth and grace. When Muslim and Sikh and Buddhist and Hindu and Shinto and Jew and atheists alike pray for peace amongst all mankind as we struggle to find comfort and joy amongst us.

A time when we stop and take a collective breath to rejoice in family, in goodwill amongst men, in our blessings gathered around a Christmas tree twinkling in the night.

It is a time for love. For sharing our abundance. For giving and receiving.

At the shelter Christmastime is a time of joy and of sorrow. A time when those who have nothing look to give something to the one's they love. For some, that something is another year without them sitting arm in arm at the table. For them, whatever drove them to the street continues to hold them back from stepping once again across the family hearth to connect to the circle of love into which they were born.

For others, they will give a phone call. A card. A simple note with the words, "Merry Christmas" written upon it.

For some, they will take what little they have and spend it on a special treat for a sweetheart, a table mate, a friend. They will share, a cigarette, a sip of pop, a coffee. They will share a smile, a hug, a warm greeting.

And for others, Christmas will come and go without their noticing its passing. They will remain locked in the lure of the substance that has stolen them away from those they love, that has wrenched them far from their family's embrace and left them here, on the street, searching for a way out as they wait in hope of a new day rising on the fullness of the promise of Christmas Eve.

Christmas is a time for mixed emotions at the shelter. A time to yearn for family circles and broken dreams. A time to long for a place to belong where poverty and lack and broken promises no longer fill the horizon of another day lost to the street.

And, it is a time to rejoice. To give thanks. To celebrate. A time for every purpose under heaven.

Yesterday, I went into the shelter to give a tour to a group of young hockey players who had driven an hour to drop-off boxes of hats and scarves and mitts and socks. "We had a Head to Toe Toss," one of the players excitedly told me. "We invited everyone who came to our tournament this weekend to donate something to the shelter."

Those 'somethings' resulted in over 1400 items plus $400 cash for purchasing lipbalm and razors and cough drops -- desperately needed items on our WishList.

As the students formed a line carrying the boxes into the shelter, clients stopped to thank them, to lend a hand, to wish them Merry Christmas. The children's faces lit up. They smiled and said, "You're welcome."

In the faces of those nine and ten year olds is the spirit of Christmas. They did not ask, "Why should we have to do this?". They simply asked, "Where do we put these boxes?" Their excitement in delivering the bounty of their Head to Toe Toss reminded everyone that, no matter what side of the street we walk on, we can all make a difference simply by sharing what we have without looking for someone to tell us what to do or what to give.

When we open our hearts, as these children did, and simply give because it's the right thing to do, we create a world that is so much more right than wrong. We create a world where the possibility of forgiveness awakens with every breath and where healing begins in every broken heart.

From all of us. Merry Christmas.








Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reflecting the light

Day 10
The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the Shelter

Everyone wants to leave footprints behind them. My art is my footprint. Reg Knelsen
At last count, he says he's had over 137 jobs in his life, the first one at the age of 15 when he moved to Calgary and became the youngest Assistant Manager at A&W in Canada. "I was pretty proud of that one," he says. "It lasted one month."

Since then he's moved across Canada. Across the economic scale. Across the divide between abundance and lack. "I've sat in my living room with the cathedral ceiling on my Italian leather sofa, sipping a beer and watching the fire, and I've been miserable. I've had stuff, lots of it, and still been miserable. Stuff didn't do it. What does it for me is my art."

He is a man of deep intellect. Perceptive. Thoughtful. Generous. He is continually giving staff and visitors to the Wild Rose Studio at the shelter small tokens of his appreciation. He holds out a box of bookmarks to a young child, a warm smile on his face as he encourages them to take one, delighting in their choice as if it was the most amazing choice in the world.

"Maybe," he says of his gift-giving, "that child, or adult even, never received a gift from a stranger before. Especially a homeless one. Maybe that one gift will open that child's mind to the idea that people, no matter where they live, have value. Just like that tiny scrap of paper upon which I painted a design. It had no value until I found its worth in the image I painted upon it."

He paints on canvas. On scraps of wood. Old flooring. Discarded bowls. A stool. A table top. Anything he finds, or friends find for him, on their journey through the city. Found art. That's what he calls it.

Like himself. "I've found myself again here in this space. This space of magic. Of possibility. Of dreams unfolding," he says of the art studio where he is one of the founding members and a core volunteer.

"Look what this has done for me," he says, where he stands in the corner of the studio plying paint upon a piece of wood, creating a scene of wonder. "I never name my paintings. Their real name lies in the person who buys it and takes it home. I always ask my purchasers to name the painting. Then it becomes a collaborative piece. Then they have a part in the painting and a part in me."

He believes in making sure people have a part in the studio. He believes that everyone has a role to play.

"This place came to be because we all shared a dream and kept working towards that dream unfolding. If we get more people to come into the studio and share in the dream, who knows where it can go? Who knows what could happen?"

Reg Knelsen has been coming to art.works for over three years. In that time he's painted hundreds of images upon the found objects, and the more traditional surfaces, of his craft. Most recently, he shared his feelings and experiences of becoming rehoused. Of being a working man with a day job, and a passion for the arts and a desire to touch hearts and minds and souls with his visual stories.

In Reg's words:

"Coming Into the Light"
(Reality reflecting the light)

Just where is it written down that one's solitude is a sought after value? Are we not social creatures who have placed value in our interpersonal relationships? This getting used to silence, peace and space of one's own is a lengthy process. It took this man six months to realize he did not need to put the protective cap back on his razor. No one was going to touch it. This of course carries over to all the matters of household chores, or if you will, the ghost work we all do.

After twenty years of not being in one job for even a year, I find myself on the verge of hitting another landmark. One year on one job, of all things, doing laundry in a homeless shelter. Albeit, it is only 30 hours a week. However, combined with my volunteer work in the studio, it probably works out to a full-time job.

Accomplishments after accomplishments. This must be an affliction of some sort. A moment of accomplishing this passion I speak often about. Reflecting the light.

*

This joy that I have in my energy (money), allows me to share in small ways with others. Ram (Project Forward) did not touch on this. His emphasis was on saying 'no' to requests for money, cig's, etc. Perhaps philanthropic values are not measured in the amounts but in the value of the act. (Many acts of kindness, occasional acts of great beauty.) Of course, what value you put on kindness or beauty will determine what those acts are.

My experiences here, growth, have now allowed me to realize that at times I must shut my eyes to see (hear) the beauty in what someone is saying. The very visual image that some of the clients present to me alters what I hear, also what I smell will also alter what I hear. I try to shut those out to hear/see the beauty.

My senses have increased over the years here. My art grows as I try to bring the feel, smell, sound, taste, sight of all that is in me and around me. My journey is growing to where I now paint the glory of pain, depression and all the lower emotions. My direction is to reflect to those that have not experienced this life or mind, the incredible places and people and things I have met and sensed.

I've now been making up my own titles for the pictures I paint. They are spontaneous and will not be put on each picture. (I still want people to put their titles on, they have great value. And, they become part of my journey.) But, in each painting my senses have gone into it so if they want to know, I will tell them.

The uncertainty of my life (I make plans. Life happens.) creates an energy of its own. Working with unstable people and artists creates a need for out of the box thinking while still holding onto my values and boundaries.

*

Reg is going home for Christmas. "The greatest part of this trip home is I've paid for my own ticket," he says. Two years ago his Christmas wish was for a ticket home to BC. He received it and reconnected with family he hadn't seen in years. "This year, I'm taking them all out for dinner. My treat." He laughs. "This having a regular paycheque. Planning for special things, is pretty exciting."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In celebration of a friend

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.

From a headstone in Ireland

Day 9
The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the Shelter

We held a memorial service yesterday for our friend, James Bannerman. James left this world at 12:45 am on Tuesday, December 8. I wrote about James' passing and my experience of spending the last few hours of his life with him last week -- and yesterday, we gathered as a community to celebrate his life and to wish him, 'God Speed' on his journey to the other side.

It was an incredibly moving and powerful event. About 50 people gathered in our multi-purpose room to pay tribute to a man who never asked for much and always gave more than asked.

Poets read. Musicians played. Singers sang and the entire event was filled with the wonder of creative spirits sharing their gifts to honour a man who, though his time with us was short, shared the best of who he was in every way he could.

The day before, while working on a powerpoint of James photos, I came across a series of photos he'd taken of a truck from Lynx Snow Removal*. It had a telephone number under the company name so I called it.

A man answered. "Hi. This is Cliff."

"Hi," I replied and explained who I was and where I was calling from.

"I'm just going through photos that James took," I told him, "and came across one with your company name and number on it. Did James work for you?"

Silence.

"Is he gone?"

"I'm afraid so."

"When?"

"Last Tuesday. December 8."

"He worked for me for nine years. He was a great guy. A guy you could count on."

We chatted some more. He thanked me for letting him know. He wished he could make the memorial service but would be on a job. I promised to send him one of James' photos of his truck and we hung up.

The next day at the memorial service, Don, who manages our labour office would tell me, "Cliff's a good guy. He used to pay James not to work. In those times when he didn't have work for him he'd pay him because he didn't want him to go off and get another job and not be available when he needed him. He loved when it snowed. It meant he was working for his pay."

James would have been happy with this winter. Lots of snow. Lots of work. Lots of pay. Lots of opportunity to feel good about a job well-done.

It was important to him. Doing a good job. Making a contribution.

It came through clearly in the comments that were said and read at the service. A brother, sister and neice wrote in to share their stories of 'Jimmy' as he was known to them. "My Uncle Jimmy was my favourite," wrote Tammy his neice. "He babysat me when I was little and my mom was at work. He loved to cook. Even taught me how to make his famous Chinese spaghetti."

The portrait of a man's past.

In the brother's letter he spoke of Jimmy's drinking problems. "He was a good man, my baby brother. Our mother died when he was elevent and I believe it is the cause of all his drinking."

We never knew 'Jimmy' as a drinker. As a man haunted by a bottle he could not put down. In the years James was at the shelter, he was never under the influence. Never known to pick up a bottle and lose himself.

"It's what we gotta do sometimes to beat the bottle," said Richard who got up to speak about James at the service. "We gotta leave our families behind to let go of our addictions."

Fellow member of the Wild Rose Studio, Reg, stood up and read what he'd written about James. "A cry of loss for an artist who has left us. A remembrance of his creativity and vision. I did not know his story, those things that most people put value in, job, car, house and family. Howver, we did at brief moments share our vision, stories of his muse that drove him to capture moments that moved people. His endeavours to say, show, shock people into looking at this world in a different way.

We, our community, is less than now for an artist has left us. We do not know what he may have brought to us in the future. A Mona Lisa. A Monet. A photoghrah of the year. My god, what can we do but look at his footprints and try to see the sound, the smell, the taste, the feel of that moment."

Max, artist, musician, poet and carpenter once wrote, "I am a father, a son, brother, uncle, nephew, friend. I am an artist, writer, carpenter. Which of these is diminished because I am homeless?" In Max' eyes, James was never diminished. He was always a man of great worth. He wrote,

"Last week we lost a friend.
Last week, we lost an artist.
Last week we lost a confidant.
Last week we lost an advisor.
Last week we lost a part of us."


It was a moving statement about a man for whom the past was not what counted. James never shared much about his past. In sharing what was important to him today, however, he gave us many gifts. Friendship. Kindness. Consideration. Photographs of this city, a place where he knew every nook and cranny. A place he travelled, on foot, by transit, in a truck with a man who employed him and to whom he gave good value for a job well-done.

Well done James. Your life is done. Your job here on earth has come to an end. Travel into that other world, those other spaces far beyond this realm we know not of and be of gentle spirit. You left an impact. Your footprints are left upon our hearts. Your images are set upon our memories. You will be forever remembered as a man whose gentle spirit was a gift to be treasured forever more.



This video was taken by James at our Christmas art show in 2008.

Friday, December 18, 2009

She lights up our lives.

Day 8
The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the Shelter

I first met Onalea Gilbertson a year ago when she came into my office, a one woman tour de force, eager to talk about her project. Tall. Blonde. Beautiful. A thousand watt lightbulb of a smile. Warm eyes. Warm heart. An actor. Singer. Writer. Poet. She had been commissioned by "This is My City", an initiative by The City of Calgary, Arts and Recreation Department, to create a play for High Performance Rodeo and was in my office to explore how we could work together.

It was the beginning of a relationship that I cherish today as a friendship that has added incredible light and lightness to my life.

For the past year, Onalea has come into the shelter one evening a week (and many other days too) to meet with a group of clients who have now become, The Di Singers. The objective was to explore and develop their creative talents, and to write and rehearse pieces for "TWO BIT OPER-EH?-SHUN", an oratoria exploring homelessness, poverty, drug addiction and mental illness on the streets of Calgary by Land's End Chamber Ensemble. The oratoria, a musical composition for voice and instruments telling a sacred story, is based on the vivid stories of the clients as well as Onalea's experiences at the shelter along with contributions by Calgary performing artists.

It has been a year of growth. A moving experience for everyone involved.

One woman. Many songs. Hundreds of stories. A lasting impact.

Like a fairy godmother creating Cinderella's ballgown, Onalea sweeps into the Di, and beneath the power of her smile and incredible spirit, magic is created. Her commitment, compassion, empathy and belief in the value of every human spirit weaves a magical thread of possibility into each moment, every word that is sung, every note that is played, every instrument strummed.

As part of
"TWO BIT OPER-EH?-SHUN", Onalea has also worked with a group of artists to create, the "Found Sound Orchestra" Taking cast-out items and found objects, Onalea, the artists and clients on our second floor day area have created unique musical instruments that can be strummed and jingled and jangled and shaken and vibrated to create unusual, sometimes discordant, yet always pleasant sounds.

The instruments remind me of many of the people we serve. Sometimes outcasts. Cast-offs. Cast-away. Separated from mainstream society by the streets they inhabit, they often do not see their own uniqueness and value. As they come to light at the Di, they begin to find their own song. They begin to find the courage to march to their own drummer, no matter how different. They begin to pick up the pieces of their lives to weave together a new scene, a new picture that suits them better, fits them more closely and opens them up to new songs, new sounds, new possibilities.

Under Onalea's tutelage, the performers of the Di Singers have begun to find their own unique voice. To create a sound that is harmonious and rich, vibrant and alive with the multi-faceted voices and stories of those who have answered her call to be part of an experience that is unscripted, unparallelled and unprecedented in the shelter.

An amazing year. An unforgettable journey. An incredible woman.

Since that first meeting a year ago, I have been blessed to get to know Onalea as an artist, a human being, and as a friend. She is kind, caring, deep. Generous. Passionate. Funny. Insightful. Perceptive. Inquisitive, but never pushy. Curious, but never intrusive. She probes gently, prods lightly and pushes effortlessly to bring out the best in everyone she meets and to encourage everyone she encounters to be their most amazing selves.

I don't' know what Onalea wants for Christmas this year but I know what I'd like to give her -- gratitude, love and joy. I don't know what's on her list, but I do know that the list of things she's brought to the shelter -- and to my life -- are priceless. Joy. Awareness. Laughter. Amazing conversation. Creativity. A world of new thinking. A palette of awesome colour to paint vivid and vibrant scenes of life beyond the street, beyond this place called homeless. With her compassion and creativity, she has bridged the divide separating us and them and created a space where every voice is heard, every song is valued. A place where labels no longer fit. A place where every person has the freedom to explore their own incredible worth and fill their space with all they're meant to be.

It has been a year of exploration and creation. A year of delving into all that makes this place so amazing. A year of digging into our creative cores to find the gold in the shadows of city skyscrapers and back alleys, the gold hiding within each and everyone of us, waiting to be dug up and brought to light.

Merry Christmas Onalea. Your passionate commitment to bringing out the best in every human being you meet, has made the Di richer and more vibrant. Thank you for sharing your light so generously. Thank you for adding your incredible hues of love and joy and laughter and hope to our world.


The High Performance Rodeo Presents
The Land's End Chamber Ensemble's Production of
"TWO BIT OPER-EH?-SHUN"
World Premiere
Saturday January 16 2010 7:30pm
Grace Presbyterian Church 1009 15th Ave. SW
Tickets: http://www.hprodeo.ca/ or call -- 403-294-9494

Composed by Marcel Bergman. Libretto by Onalea Gilbertson
Featuring The Land's End Chamber Ensemble with
Onalea Gilbertsen, Elizabeth Stepkowski Tahran
Doug McKeag, the choir Rev 52 and the Di Singers

70 minutes plus 45 minute talk back reception

Art show and sale
by artists of the Wild Rose Studio
at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I'll be okay.

Day 7
The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the Shelter

She is 31. She loves to read, "It's my favourite thing in the world," she says. She loves to write. She's started her own blog. "I think if I force myself to write everyday," she says, "It will be therapeutic. And, I hope that if I tell my story, I'll inspire someone else to tell theirs and maybe, I'll be able to help someone else."

She has a gentle sense of humour. A laugh that tinkles like tiny Christmas bells ringing on a clear, winter's night. "I didn't ever expect this," she says. "I was really scared when I first came here."

"This" is homeless. "Here" is the shelter where I work.

Homelessness hit six months ago. "I have a disability," she says. She looks at me, her eyes wide, but slightly unfocused. "See my eyes? It's a learning disability too and that makes it hard for me to get certain jobs. I had a job I really enjoyed at a coffee shop, but they told me I was too slow."

One day, as I stopped at the drive-through window to pick-up my latte where she used to work, I complimented her on something she had said at a memorial service for a staff member who had died the week before. "Oh," she responded. Surprise raising the 'oh' into an exclamation. "Thank you for telling me that." Pause. "You were there?"

"Yes," I told her. "I work there."

"Oh." She paused again. It is something I will learn to appreciate about her. Her gentle and considered responses. Not artificial or contrived. Gentle and considered. Jessica thinks before she speaks. "Do you like working there?"

"I love working there."

She smiled. Handed me my latte. "I love working here too."

And now, she no longer works there. She is too slow.

Too slow. In a world of fast --take out, drive-through, instant messages and immediate gratification where you gotta get up and go if you're gonna get where you're goin', Jessica is too slow.

I find her enchanting. There is a gentleness about her. A kindness. A naivety that stops me. Makes me think twice before I say something sarcastic or 'witty'. Makes me think twice about what I'm doing, who I am. She makes me want to be 'a kinder me'.

We are on the fifth floor of the shelter. In a transitional bed area. It is 'her home' and she has opened up her home to a TV reporter doing a story on the Christmas WishList. She opens her locker to show us everything she owns in the world. "It all fits in here," she says motioning to the gym-locker room style space. Metal. Tall and skinny, it holds a few clothes, toiletries, a box and her most favourite possession -- books.

"Where is all your 'stuff'?" I ask.

"I've never really had any stuff," she replies with a shrug of her shoulders. "I've always lived in shared accommodation. The last place I got evicted from because I couldn't pay my rent after I lost my job. I stayed with friends for awhile but that was too much too and when I left, this was all I had."

"What keeps you going?"

"Faith," she easily replies. "Faith in God. I know I will be okay."

This Christmas what would 'rock' Jessica's world is, a night in a hotel room. "Just one night to have a bath. To be alone. Privacy is non-existent here. I'd just like one night to myself on a soft bed." She pauses. Laughs. Thinks about it some more."Of course, if I had someone to share it with that would be nice too, but I don't." Sigh. Smile. "I'm single."

A simple wish from a woman with simple desires. She's 31. Never been married. Had a boyfriend but that wasn't too good. "I've got a lot of healing and learning to do," she says. "My step-father was really abusive. I think it really hurt me." She pauses again. "Deep down."

Deep down, the wounds of being homeless rankle her hard-won peace of mind. "People can be so mean. They can be so unkind. They make judgements. Call 'us' lazy. Or stupid. Or bums. It's not true. I'm not lazy. And I know I'm slow but I'm not stupid. I really want to work but being here makes it hard to remember that I can. It makes it hard to remember who I am."

This Christmas, along with over six hundred other clients at the shelter, Jessica has made a wish on the Christmas WishList. "It would mean the world to me if I get it," she says. She pauses again. "But, I'll be okay if I don't."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Voices of the light speakers.

Day 6
The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the Shelter

When we started asking clients at the shelter if they'd like to participate in Christmas messages online, the videographer said, "Think of this as those 'Messages to our Troops' we often see on TV. This is what these are like. Messages back home, to your family."

How exciting, people responded. In fact, they thought it was so exciting some have since approached and asked, "When are we sending the messages to our troops?"

This morning, I share with you the voices and faces of people who, while calling the shelter home, yearn for another place, another time, other people. In their joy and gratitude and longing,they share their wonder with the camera. In their heartfelt messages they speak of who we all are, what we all share. Some scientists describe our world as packets of light creating energy in the form of life. May these voices and faces remind you, we are all beings of light connected on this human journey, giving life to all that is wondrous and beautiful and heartfelt about us. We are all connected.













May your day be filled with wonder. My daughter, Alexis, comes home for Christmas today. Home. That place where our hearts belong, find belonging, long for and long to know. Home. That place where, no matter where we might roam, our hearts know we are always at home when we travel with hearts filled with love and joy.

Alexis comes home today and our home will be filled with her love and joy. We are all blessed.

May you be blessed today with knowing, you are exactly where you belong in your heart.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

May they come home, safe and sound

Day 5
The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the shelter


It was just a plain cardboard box labelled with my name and address. Hopewell Hill, NB was the only clue as to the sender.

I knew who sent it. Sharon Wells. I'd heard from Sharon for the first time in November 2006 when she wrote to ask if there was anything she could do for the shelter. "My family is very grateful for the program and services that you and your association offer to the homeless and working poor in Calgary. Our daughter benefited from your services and our son may have been there too. He returned home this week and we had not seen him since 2002. This is one of the best Christmas gifts one can have that you cannot put under the tree; love of your family."

She's been sending hand knit mittens and toques every year for the past three years. This year she wrote:

"Enclosed is a box of hand made mitts and hats from two gals from new Brunswick who truly believe in the work that you and your volunteers offer the residents of Calgary. As in the past, you have supported our children as they went out west to find employment, and start a new life, that may not have been so glamorous, and ended up in your shelter.

In our appreciation, please accept these small tokens, made with huge hearts by mothers who know what it is like to have a child that has lived on the streets in Calgary. May these warm gifts from our heart help others that are in need this coming winter.

As in past years, these items are made with wool from sheep that have grazed in New Brunswick, wool spun and manufactured at Briggs & Little in New Brunswick and knitted by myself, a New Brunswicker and Marg, a Newfoundlander.

May you and your volunteers know that your work has not gone unnoticed but has encouraged many, even mothers on the east coast of Atlantic Canada."


A plain cardboard box. A label with just my name and address and a return address in Hopewell Hill, NB, a town I'd never heard of until a woman named Sharon contacted me to ask what she could do to thank us for caring for her child until he could return home again. A plain cardboard box that held all the prayers and hopes of mothers the world over. May my child come home, safe and sound -- for Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan. Whatever the occasion. May my child come home, safe and sound.

I opened the box and cried. Earlier in the day I'd received a box of belongings from James Bannerman. Staff had cleaned out his locker. Culled the items that were not personal and sent to my office those things they believed had value to his family or which could add value to the art program. I'd cried when I'd opened the box of James' goods too. Those tears had been of sadness. Sorrow. Loss.

When I opened Sharon's box my tears were tears of joy. Of gratitude. Of hope.

We never know when something we do will make a difference. We never know what that difference will be. We never know whose heart we'll touch.

In receiving Sharon and Marg's gifts from their heart, knit in hands of love, my heart was touched and moved and filled with gratitude. The simple gesture has made a difference. It is felt in the brightly coloured, warm woolen mittens they knit with such tender loving care. The wool is soft. Deep rich colours. Red. Green. Gold. Brown. Beige. Orange. Blue. Colours of the rainbow. A rainbow of colours knit into a box.

This is an amazing world. A world where lack and scarcity walk our streets and remind us that gratitude is the path to abundance. That when we count our blessings we build a bridge to the other side of the street that lights the path for those seeking a way back home.

This is an amazing world where on one side of the street people walk wrapped up in the warm coats of lives stitched together from one moment to the next filled with things to do, places to go, people to see. A world where, sadness and bleakness wear weary paths to the place where shelter is found in every kind of weather, just across the street.

A world where, just across the nation, mothers, like Sharon and Marg, sit together and while away the dark hours of winter to the soothing hum of knit one, pearl one. Their hope is knit into the truth that, no matter how far they are from the streets of Calgary, they can make a difference with their constant knitting together of woolen mittens cast on needles of love.

A world where two mothers spend their hot summer days on the porch knitting and chatting stringing together pearls of gratitude for the gifts their children received while so far from home.

A world where in the cool of autumn evenings, knitting needles click and two mothers create a gift that will shelter the hands of those who have been left out in the cold.

With each knit one, pearl one, Sharon and Marg stitch together the possibility of hope arising in the hearts of those who receive their gifts -- no matter the state of their lives or their position at the shelter -- because each stitch has been cast with a pearl one of gratitude, a knit one of hope.

In opening the box of multi-coloured mittens, I was reminded that when we knit one in hope, pearl one in gratitude, we stitch into the tapestry of this world all the love a mother's heart can hold. A love that, no matter the distance between us, can never be torn apart, can never come unstitched.

This year, there are those on our Christmas WishList who have asked for warm mittens. This year, they will receive the gift of not just a pair of warm woolen mittens, but also a gift knit with love in caring hands.

May their hearts be touched, their spirits renewed and their lives be forever changed. May they know the love that went into every stitch. May they know that across this wondrous land, there are those who care, no matter how far from home they may roam.

And may they know that somewhere a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, cousin, grandmother, grandfather, someone, perhaps many someones, wait, hoping and praying that one day they will come home, safe and sound.