Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Touch -- a gift of life

To touch can be to give life. Michelangelo
In a homeless shelter, touch is something staff and volunteers are discouraged from sharing. There are professional boundaries to consider. Hygiene. Propriety. And people whose boundaries are so thinly guarded, they might misconstrue a simple touch as an invitation for more. There are a hundred and one reasons not to touch the clients, but, I wonder...

In a recent article published in Yes! , Hands-on Research: The Science of Touch. How everyday forms of touch can bring us emotional balance and better health. Author, Dacher Keltner, makes the case for increasing touch -- not just for babies, but for everyone. It's not just a touchy-feelie thing to do. Touch improves health, well-being. It helps make the world go round in smoother ways, wearing down the bumps and grinds of fate so that we can roll smoothly, all wheels connected, to the road of life.

Which got me thinking, if babies wither from lack of touch, and touch is not something that goes away, maybe, the people we serve at the shelter would thrive if we increased touch...

It isn't about hugging, it's about touching hands, an arm, a shoulder. It's about acknowledging someone's presence through a physical touch that doesn't have to be 'full-body' contact. And in a place where most feel invisible, acknowledging presence can be a gift. Seeing someone -- and letting them know through a gentle touch that you see them, can spark a life into renewed presence, renewed spirited living.

I remember a study I read about years ago where they secretly filmed a phone-booth (you know it's an old study because phone-booths are almost relics of the past-- especially with a slot for coins). In the study, researchers left a quarter in the coin slot. When someone came out of the booth, someone approached them and asked, "Did you find my quarter in the slot?"

When no touch was involved, most respondents said no.

When the researcher touched their forearm, the likelihood of the respondent passing over the quarter increased exponentially (it was a long time ago and I don't remember the stat -- but it was high).

It's all about human connection.

And touch connects us.

So... my challenge for today -- touch someone -- on the arm, the hand, the shoulder, (and no, I didn't say grope them). Touch them while you chat. While you walk together down a hallway, while you stop at their cubicle to pass along a piece of information.

Enrich every encounter with the spirit of gentle touch -- and see what happens.

And to inspire you, here's an animated video of economist Jeremy Rifkin's model for building an Empathetic Civilisation. I posted this one some months ago -- but all these RSA animations are worth watching again and again -- and this one's filled with brilliant thinking.


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Divine in each of us

One would give generous alms if one had the eyes to see the beauty of a cupped receiving hand. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

My friend, Diane Walker over at Contemplative Photograph wrote yesterday about "seeing God in everything".

I have struggled over the past few days to stay balanced in 'seeing God in everything' amidst all the goings on at the shelter where I work. There is a lot of pain and sorrow when hundreds of people in need gather together and I have struggled to stay unattached to the pain so that I am open to the promise -- of lives shifting, changing, opening up. Of lives lived, not lost.

Recently, at a talk I gave about the shelter a man stopped me mid-sentence and said, "I'm sorry. Could you repeat that please? How many people do you sleep a night?"

"On average, 1150. We're funded to sleep up to 1220."

His jaw dropped. He looked at me in shock. "1220. That's depressing."

"What if we look at it differently? What if it isn't that 1220 people sleep in our care, it is that 1220 people, who otherwise might not make it through the night safely, wake up in the morning and have the breath to take another step? And another. 1220 people have the opportunity to wake up to a new day where, if they can keep waking up they may one day awaken to find their courage, strength, whatever it takes to make different choices has awoken with them?"

It's all in our perspective.

And still, sometimes I struggle.

This past weekend, on Saturday, I was at the shelter for the Christmas WishList interviews. Both my daughters and a boyfriend came to help out as did five other people. They were busy. Men and women lined up waiting for a chance to share their story, to ask for that one thing that will make Christmas morning a time to remember, a special time, a link to time's past when they were surrounded by family and friends, sharing in the fellowship and harmony of this special time of year.

I struggle sometimes with the sadness in people's eyes, the loss of those they love, the loss of themselves. I struggle and want to cry. Stop. Stop it. Stop doing what you're doing.

But it is not my place to stop them. It is my place to hold them in loving eyes, to hold that space open where they can be, who they are, as they are. It is my place to see the divine in each of them. Because for most of the people we serve, they have lost their sense of wonder, their sense of awe in the miracle of their lives. And they will never awaken to the possibility of their greatness as long as I see them as lost causes and hopeless cases.

We held the Christmas WishList interviews and tears were shed and hearts were touched and minds were opened. One man my eldest daughter Alexis interviewed pressed a twenty dollar bill into her hands at the end of the interview and asked her to please make sure someone gets it who really needs it.

She cried after that. I told him he didn't have to do that, she said. But he wanted to. He wanted to give something back.

And then, on Sunday, we held our annual art show and sale at Wild Rose United Church. It was, as it has been every time for the past five years, a very special event. A time when parishioners and people from the community gather together to celebrate in fellowship the creative outpourings of those who call the shelter home.

And as with every year for the past five, someone in our group was asked to light the first Advent Candle -- the Candle of HOPE.

David had the honour this year. He is a 19 year old man who came to the shelter in June because, as he says, he was no longer safe where he was. As David told his story, eyes teared up and hearts melted. Abuse. Alcohol. Drugs. Violence. All of it were in his family of origin. All of it filled his young life. And yet, David didn't whine. He didn't say, woe is me, pity me, ain't life the pits.

David was forthright and open. I found a place to call home at the shelter, he said. I found a place where people are willing to give me the opportunity to better myself. A place where people care.

David wants to be a chef. He's working towards his high school diploma. He's working at a construction job to earn money to be able to afford going back to school. And in his spare time, he likes to keep busy by participating in the Possibilities Project. A joint initiative with Wild Rose United church, the Possibilities Project overs clients a space and place and opportunity to explore their creative essence through art, drama, writing, music.

I'm grateful for this place where I can meet other artists and be encouraged and do my thing, said David. It's fun and the people are really great, and he laughs his youthful laugh and grins his boyish grin.

"Oh, and PS," he adds at the end of his talk, "I've got Christmas cards for sale on my table at the art show. Come take a look." Wink wink. "And buy them."

And everyone laughs and everyone came and took a look and all of his cards were sold.

Lots of art was sold by the artists gathered in the Fellowship Hall at Wild Rose United Church where 'radical hospitality' is the first principle of their ministry. Lot of art was sold. Lots of stories told and lots of memories made as we gathered together to celebrate the best of what everyone had to offer.

It was a day of magic. Of wonder. Of fellowship and kindness. Of people connecting through the spirit of giving. Of people opening up through sharing their beauty and wonder on the field of greatness that is the magnificence and the miracle of the human being in the eyes of God.

Just as it should be through all our eyes. Human beings of magnificence. Miracles of life. It is when I remember to see the promise, not the pain, of the people we serve that I am touched once again by the beauty and wonder of the human being. By the joy and gifts of a world of abundance opening up all around me.

And it is in those moments when I see the miracle of the world around me that I am touched by the Divine. Open to the sacredness of every being, every element, every moment of my life.

And in those moments of wonder I know, I am blessed.


I didn't start writing this piece as an entry for the One Word Blog Carnival -- but... fellowship was/is such a part of what Wild Rose United Church offers up. Fellowship is integral to our art show and sale every year the first Sunday of Advent at the church.

And "Fellowship" is this week's One Word Blog Carnival prompt!

and so... here it is. My contribution to the One Word Blog Carnival -- the links won't go live until tonight. I'll be adding my piece because -- well just because it's fun and a great way to connect and share in all that is magnificent about us human beings doing what we do best -- being ourselves!

Click on over the Bridget Chumbley's place later tonight or tomorrow and have a read of the wonder and magic you'll find there!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hey Mister (A poem)

Hey Mister!
©Louise Gallagher 2010

Hey mister
can you spare me
a dime
The cupboards
are bare
and my mama
she's working
and my baby sister
she's crying
and hunger
it's poundin'
like a freight train
into the west
where my daddy
done go
in search of work

to help us all
get by

I want
to go too
but mama done cry
and papa done
made me
to stay
but I'm not gettin'
helpin' out
and I don't know
no more
what to do

Hey mister
can you spare me
a dime?

Our bellies
are shrunken
and hope
is a tumblin'
with every passer-by
the other way
like they can't see
and hollow cheek bones
like they can't hear
and tears fallin'

you don't gotta
you don't gotta
I promise
you can drop a dime
without losin' a step
you can throw it from
over there
and I won't care
if you hit me
but please
can you spare me
a dime?

The good ladies
of the church
done bring us a basket
with cans and a chicken
but we ate it
'cause empty bellies
need fillin'
and mama
she didn't eat
but pick at the bones
we left behind

Hey mister
can you spare me
a dime?

It is another One Stop Poetry -- One Shot Sunday Poetry Contest.

Write a poem based on the theme and photo -- link in and .... fame and fortune await! Okay -- maybe not fame and fortune, but definitely a lot of fun and fascinating reads and the joy of being part of something bigger than just this page sitting here. The fun of stretching your creative muscles to encompass words that make pictures and a photo that brings words to life.

Click on over to One Stop Poetry and immerse yourself in wonder!

Thank you to Leslie Moon and Pete Marshall who shared their poems at One Stop today and to Adam Dustus for hosting today's event and for inspiring us all to poetic verse with his poem, Our Gang!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Red rubber balls and other hauntings

It's a bomb
he said
He knew
I wanted to shake

A bomb

No way
it could
if I gave it just
But what if...

it was

what if...
that round
in shiny paper
bow affixed
a tree
all dressed up
for Christmas

What if...

He was your brother
I was your sister
You were
my family

Could you
blow me

What if
all of us connected
one big family
on earth
no matter where we stood
on this big
spinning through space

could we

no wars
no guns
no murderous
to blow
like a red
rubber ball
between us
with hope

connecting us
through love
touching us
with joy
converting us
in peace

He was my brother
It was a red rubber ball
long lost on the road
from childhood
where one eyed-teddy bears
with sawdust hearts
and ghosts of Christmas' past
cry out
in hope
for us
to find
and peace.

He was my brother
and he is gone
but his spirit lives on
haunting me
with its call
to find
the way
to make love
not war
in a world of
and peace
for all

David K. Wheeler over at Dave Writes Right posted a wonderful challenge (and giveaway) for Random Act of Poetry at The High Calling -- to write a poem in honour of the tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve -- a la Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

I read about Dave's challenge at L.L. Barkat's Seedlings in Stone where she has posted a beautiful and haunting poem, The Promise.

I invite you to link in -- to try your hand at writing a poem or two or simply read the offerings of others. Who knows, you could win a copy of Dave's new book of poetry: Contingency Plans: Poems. To read more about David and his book, visit Glynn Young at Faith. Fiction. Friends as well as read his review and interview with the poet at High Calling Blogs last week.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Photo - Quainault Waterfall - courtesy of Robert Kraft @ Public Domain Pictures.

Morning wraps me up in its smooth embrace, blue and green and red and yellow lights glisten on the tree across the street. In the eastern sky, beyond the horizon where roofs and trees block the morning's arch creeping slowly into nights dark blanket, a new day awaits. I sit in the quiet of my office, the house silent all around me. Gratitude awakens, pulling me gently out of nights slumber into the dawn of morning light rising all around me.

Words shimmer on the edges of my mind like ice crystals hanging beneath the orb of a street light. Words that provoke and tempt and tease me into awakening to the beauty of my world. Words that fall mindlessly to the page, tumbling out in joyful abandon, littering the page with fat, plump consonants, juicy rich vowels and punctuation ripe with possibility.

I let them have their way. Give them room to appear upon the page in all their gleeful disarray. Pushing, prodding I tease them into order, searching for value in every letter, every phrase.

I am a woman of words. Of visual imagery all wrapped up in spoken symbols uttered into the void of possibility that exists all around me.

I am a woman of silence. Of quiet thoughts left unspoken, expressed in hands and eyes and body movements and simple gestures that speak to what is on my mind, what pains me, awakens me, touches me, moves me.

I am a woman of words spoken and unspoken. Of hidden meanings clustered behind a single word and open dialogue where ideas flow freely into pathways to truth and beauty.

I am my truth, spoken or unspoken. I am the words I speak, the words I think and leave behind hidden in silence. I am the words I leave behind when I have spoken.

I am the words I employ in every spoken utterance, in every unspoken truth. I am my truth in all its shining light and painful darkness.


Silence waits in the space
two lovers
torn apart
with words unspoken.

Silence breathes opening up the space
two lovers
pulled together
by words unspoken.

Silence speaks within the space
two lovers
bodies enmeshed
in words unspoken.

I read Glynn's poem over at Faith, Fiction, Friends this morning. He used an image to create a poem and in that process, he inspired me to start writing without structuring my thinking into theme or concept but to simply 'see' an image in my mind and let it happen -- writing with words flowing freely. This is a waterfall writing technique -- it is not of deeper meaning, no hidden agendas -- just freeflow writing pouring like water onto the page. (or screen as it may be)


Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Christmas WishList

It was our Christmas WishList kick-off last night. Nine volunteers came in to interview clients and to ask them, "What's your Christmas wish?"

It was a night of touching moments, of heartfelt connections, of people seeing one another and knowing, "You see me. I see you. We are connected."

Both my daughters came out to volunteer, as did my youngest daughter's boyfriend. They sat at a table and interviewed clients, asking questions, chatting, listening. Ryan, Liseanne's boyfriend, met Karen, the woman I wrote about last week whose daughter came in to volunteer and found her mother, whom she hadn't seen in years, living at the shelter.

"She said she didn't really want anything for Christmas," he said when the four of us went for dinner after the event. "She showed me the photos. She kept crying. She kept saying, I've got what I wanted. In the end, she asked for an outfit."

Karen wants to look good for Christmas dinner. With her family.

One man wanted to make sure they didn't use his real name. He doesn't want his family to know where he is. What's happened to his life. It was his first night at the shelter. Alexis, my eldest daughter interviewed him. "He was really scared," she said. "Really scared."

In the end, he didn't have a Christmas wish. He just wanted to be safe. To know what was would happen to him.

I let her know a staff member had sat with him to chat about the shelter, the process, what would happen.

Another man told her the story of his son finding him after several years. He is going home to Saskatchewan for Christmas. What he wants most is a disposable camera, maybe two, so he can take pictures of the family he hasn't seen in years. His son had found him last spring. He had been standing on a street corner when a car pulled up and a man stepped out and said, "Dad." His son had heard his father might be staying at the shelter and he had come looking. He's got a grandchild he's never met. A daughter, brothers, sisters. Family who have worried for years about where he was. What he was doing.

He's going home for Christmas and wants to take photos.

We had interview tables set up on all the floors. I walked between each floor, checking up on how people were doing. There was never any down time. Always people waiting in line to sign up. There is something very humbling about seeing grown men standing in line, waiting to tell a stranger, All I want for Christmas...

A man Liseanne interviewed asked to have a donation made to the Burn Unit at the hospital. Another, a donation to the Children's hospital. They didn't want anything themselves. Just to have the gift of giving passed on to help others.

These are stories of life. Of lives unravelling. Unfolding. Opening up. Simple stories. Stories that touch your heart and break it. Wide open.

Robert D
Robert moved to Calgary with his parents as a young boy. He loves the fishing, hiking and camping. He finds it hard to be homeless. He finds it difficult to be in a shelter mostly because he has the same lunch everyday at work. He would love a change from the regular sandwich.

Wishlist: Gift card to a grocery store

Robert D
Robert has had alot of mis-fortune but he is thankful to be alive. In the last 2 years he has had 9 strokes. This left him legally blind and in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Robert enjoys teaching computers skills and re-furbishing computers. His wish is to stay warm.

Wishlist: Snow suit (34 x 34) or a large jacket.

Don M
Don came from Montreal to work over 30 years ago. He has 3 boys who are all in Ontario and is a grandfather 5 times! He has never had the joy of meeting his grandkids but his sons keep in touch by making DVD’s and sending them to him. 2 years ago he got hit by a car while bike riding. He had a severe concussion and lost some of his ability to work. He has to walk on stilts and he now suffers from dizzyness which makes working difficult. He loves to play guitar and write his own music. His favorite is Country. He hopes to get a portable DVD player to see his grandkids more often.

Wishlist: Portable DVD player or gift card to Walmart

We've got eight more interview sessions set up. Our goal is to have at least 800 clients signed up by December 15th.

It is such a powerful experience. To see people talking, sharing and giving voice to dreams, to wishes, to hopes for that one special thing this Christmas.

My Christmas wish... that everyone's wish is fulfilled. That everyone knows the joy of knowing someone, a stranger, cared enough to gift them one special thing, just for them, this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Time is running

Snow covers the ground outside my window. Night holds tight. Street light glare is softened by the frigid arctic air that grips us in its maw. Yesterday, Calgary had the very unreal distinction of being the second coldest place on earth.

Excuse me?

-27 F (or about -33 C) at the Springbank Airport at 10:57 a.m. Tuesday, the weather report said.

Why there aughta' be a law!

The only place colder – anywhere – was the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, where it was -36 F (or -38 C), according to www.wx-now.com.

Hello? We're freezing up here.

And they call it Global Warming?

Could someone please send the warmth our way?

Global warming my mukluks!

More like the Great Global Deep-Freeze.

Baby it's cold outside.

Yesterday, I drove to a meeting downtown just a few blocks away -- but too far to walk in such frigid temperatures. In my car I was warm and dry. I was still bundled up -- who knew how far I'd have to walk to get from where I parked?

I drove through our courtyard, a place normally full of people - hanging out, standing around, smoking, playing hackey sack, sitting on the pavement.

Yesterday. It was empty.

No one. Not a soul. The only souls around were those walking briskly into the shelter, getting in from the cold as fast as they could. Even the dealers who can usually be found hanging out on public property just beyond our gates were absent.

There was no one walking down the street. No one passing-by.

Except one man.

Jack. He wasn't moving too quickly.

He stumbled down the laneway, towards the gates, his body encased in heavy jacket, hood up covering his head.

He staggered unsteadily, the ice underfoot treacherous.

Anyone watching might have assumed he was under the influence. Just another drunken bum falling down and freezing to death in the cold.

I once had a police officer say that to me. About freezing in the cold.

I was giving a presentation on "Street Sensitivity". I regularly do these presentations with our police force in an effort to awaken them to the humanity of the people we serve.

On this day someone had asked, "What do you do when the shelter's full and it's freezing outside?"

"We make room," I replied. "We cannot turn someone away in this weather. Our staff just can't do it."

"If they're drunks they should just freeze to death in a snow bank," an officer piped up.

The humanity. Remember their humanity, I reminded myself before responding.

"Is that why you became a police officer?" I asked. "To have someone die on your watch?"

"No. But if the guy won't quit drinking what are you supposed to do?"

"Help him. Keep him safe."

Jack wasn't far from the shelter. I wondered why he'd gone out in the cold on a day like today, but Jack is stubborn. He probably wanted fresh air.

And Jack is dying. He doesn't have many days for fresh air left.

It's the big C.

They've operated but, they say there's not much they can do.

Time will have its say. The big C will have its way. He's not got much time left. And what time he's got, Jack will, as he's done everything his entire life, do it his way.

A small man, the big C has eaten away what little body fat he had. He's mostly skin and bones. Stretched tight. Stretched taut against bones that protrude at awkward angles. Collar bone etched. Cheek bones chiseled. Eye sockets sunken.

And still he has his sense of humour.

"Why don't I come up to your office and chase you around your desk?" he suggested yesterday when I saw him on the Second Floor in our day area, a place where people can sit and read, play cards, chat with friends and staff, watch TV. He was volunteering. Answering the call to help people up and down the elevators. Even as time ebbs away, Jack wants to give back.

I laughed. "My office isn't very big. And my desk is up against a wall."

"All the better," he replied. "I won't have to chase you far!"

It is his way. Witty. Charming. Funny. He can be grouchy but never bitter or mean.

And time is running out.

Time doesn't care about the weather. About agendas or calendars or hopes and dreams. Time is running out for Jack and still he gives back.

Time for all of us to start giving back too. To start giving up our prejudices and perceptions that paint us into believing freezing in the cold is what someone, anyone, deserves. That an addiction is a conscious choice chosen because someone thought it would be a good idea to live their life as an addict, or homeless, or mentally ill.

Time to awaken to our own humanity and start giving the world our best. No matter the times, we need to fill the world, whatever time it is, whatever time we've got, with our best.

It's time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black to blue to fade.

Driving, in my car. Snow crunches beneath my tires. Heater blows hot air. I hear a line in a song, 'from black to blue'. An image flashes through my mind. Fast. Like a comet falling. A hand raised. A slap. A bruise. Sallow yellow. Just forming. Black to blue and fade. Back to black. Sallow yellow.
A woman. Black to blue and fade. Fading into sallow yellow. Fading into nothing.

A man. A woman. Anger. Flash. Black to blue and fade. Nothing.

It goes on. And on. The cycle. A man. A woman. Anger. Flash. Hand. Slap. Sallow yellow. Black to blue and fade. And nothing.

The woman falls. She rises up. Smiles. Cajoling. Encouraging. Anger flashes. The man rises up. Hand raised. Pain. Cry. Sallow yellow heating up to orange. Red. Black to blue and back again. Fade to black.

A siren.


A body. Lying. Cold. Still breathing.

She smiles through the pain. The ambulance jolts into gear. She is carried away. Away from black to blue.

He loves me, she says.

Love doesn't hurt like this, someone answers in the darkness.

She cannot hear.

He didn't mean to do it. It was an accident. She insists.

And their voices fade from black to blue into nothing.

She grows silent.

And goes back.

Not for more. Never for more.

He won't do it again.

Never more.

He promised.

There's always the promise of never again after black fades to blue to sallow yellow into nothing. Always the promise of never more fading away at the edge of happily ever after.

It is promise of what could be without black fading to blue to sallow yellow to nothing.

And the cycle turns and the pain continues and the fear rises and black to blue fades deeper and deeper into unending black. Deeper into that dark space where blackness lives in memory blocked of any colour beyond black to blue. Beyond that place where truth lies. Where life fades from black to blue to constant sallow yellow rising once again to red and black and blue
all over
she fades,
into nothing.

I started writing this piece yesterday morning in my head. And it would nto let go. When words won't let me go, I have to let them out.

November is Family Violence Prevention month in Alberta.

I wrote this piece in honour of those who cannot/did not/will not get away.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Broken dreams

British colonialism has a certain process and formula, and it's been applied around the world with different populations, often indigenous populations, in different countries that they choose to colonize. And that is to make people into good little Englishmen. Because the best ally you have is someone just like you. Kenn Richard, director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto.
Last night my eldest daughter Alexis came to me and said, "Mom. You have to watch this Ted Talk. It's on the Lakota."

I said I would and then forgot. This morning, when I woke up, I remembered her request and went in search of photographer, Aaron Huey's, Ted Wish presentation.

I don't have words for Aaron and the powerful photographs and words he shares. I don't have answers. I have only tears and the desire to awaken. Me. You. All of us.

In Canada, we have our own broken treaties, broken promises and broken dreams. We have our own blind refusal to see the role we have played in the suffering of our indigenous peoples. We have cultural genocide, residential schools, The Scoop -- the wholesale removal of native children from their homes to be adopted into white families. And we have generations raped of their culture, their history, language, spirituality, worth and pride.

We have our self-righteous insistence that the problem with the Indian is... and then we have our list of excuses, of reasons why we are not to blame. It is they who are lazy, drunkards, criminals. It is they who refuse to get off the reservation. Who refuse to go back to the reservation, or as Aaron Huey so aptly calls them, Prisoner of War camps. It is they who refuse to let of the past, forgive, forget, move on. To get on with living. It is they who are abusing drugs. Killing each other. Killing their future with their wanton disregard for the promise of today.

We look for solutions for the indigenous peoples and come up empty. How do we, the oppressor, the dominant society 'fix' the problem we created when they refuse to give up their drugs and anger and wholesale disregard for their humanity. When they so obviously do not want our help? And as we turn our backs and walk away, wiping our hands of the problem, we cannot see that breaking our promises has always been easier than keeping them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In Time (a poem)

Photograph by Trent Chau, used with permission for the One Shot Sunday Photo Challenge. To see other poems for this photograph, please visit One Stop Poetry. (thanks Glynn -- at Faith. Fiction. Friends. for the inspiration and the link)

In Time
©Louise Gallagher

I am here,
Your name
to the wind and sky and rocks
in ancient stratification
crenellated canyons
standing firm
deeply cut
granite walls
lined and weathered
by time

do You
see me?
do You
hear me?
do You
know me?

my voice echoes
calling back
see Me
hear Me
know Me

I wait
hope suspended
upon the wind
swirling through
canyon walls
and worn
by Your breath
the stories of time
constantly through
held firm
in time

time passes
wearing down
ancient stratification
stand firm
calling me
calling me
to Your embrace.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The bread of life

The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You don't blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the President. You realize that you control your own destiny. Albert Ellis
Years ago, when he was alive, my father and I shared a passion for baking bread. He taught me the secrets of kneading the dough, of relaxing as I mixed it and folded it and formed it into shape. Like my father, I love the mystery of making bread and the earthy awareness of its simple ingredients creating such wonder.

When my daughters were younger I used to let them sit on the kitchen counter, or stand on a chair beside me so that they could help me. "Making bread is a great way to get your frustrations out," I'd tell them and I'd demonstrate by picking up the dough, raising its floury body into the air above my head before throwing it down onto the counter. They'd squeal with delight, brush the white powder from their faces, push their tiny hands into the dough and push it and punch it and roll it around.

And then we'd wait for the dough to rise. They always wanted to peak. To see if it was 'working'. They'd lift the corner of the towel covering the bowl where they dough lay resting and take a look. Sometimes, they'd do it every five minutes in the hope they'd see it rise. And then, like magic, it would and they would clap their hands and eagerly await the next stage in our bread making process.

It was like life. No matter how much you're watching it, checking on it, poking at it, pushing and pounding it, it always gets a rise out of you. You can choose to throw it out or savour the process of creation and eat up the results, butter steaming in golden hues as you devour every morsel, rejoicing in the fact, you created it. You played a hand in making it rise.

When they were young I also liked to joke and say, "One day you'll be in therapy and you'll blame it all on your mother. I don't want you to waste good therapy so... I'm giving you lots to work with."

And then, I gave them lots of good doughy matter to work with.

Sure, I did my best and sometimes, my best sucked. Sometimes, my best was a desperate attempt to rid me of guilt, of blame. To appease my ache. To ease my fears. But always, no matter what I did, love formed the foundation of the doughy matter of their lives, of our lives together -- even when it seemed I'd added too much salt to the wounds, love was always the basis upon which our lives rose and set.

Today, it is the love that forms the doughy matter of our lives that makes the most difference. Today, what I did or didn't do pales in comparison to the amazing wonders they can create in their lives when they use love as the essential ingredient that makes their lives rich and full of wonder and life. That makes the sun rise to the occasion of their best day yet. Regardless of what I have done, in their 20s, it is their choice in how to deal with it, use it, live it, experience it and eat it up.

Just as it is for me.

When I look back on my life, I can see the many instances, the countless moments where I did not use love as the foundation for making my life shine. Instead, I used blame because, there were many years of my life where my problems, I believed, were not my own. They were founded on my childhood experiences that did not settle well within me. They were built upon the stories I told of the wrongs done to me by those I love, by those who promised to love me, by those who shoulda, coulda, woulda known better if only... at least in my book.

And so, I told my victim stories, told my woe is me tales and still it didn't make a difference. Still my bread kept falling and I couldn't rise up. I was failing at life and running out of people to blame.

And then, one day, I decided to quit the blame game. I decided my life wasn't about the wrongs done to me, it was about how I dealt with what went wrong when I wanted it to go right and didn't always get my way. How I dealt with what happened when I couldn't control other people, situations or circumstances.

It was an aha moment. A moment so clear, the sun didn't need to rise, the sky didn't need to reflect its blue into infinity.

I knew. I knew this was my one and only life. This is my only moment to live it to my fullest, make it my best, make it mine. it didn't matter what kind of bread I baked, what mattered most was the process of creating something that nurtured and sustained me.

What happened to disappoint me in life is nothing compared to what happens when I step up to the challenge of living free of blame and regret, and move into the power of living fully in the now, 100% accountable for my life and how I live it.

Life doesn't always give me what I want, but I always get what I create -- and I can create magic when I let go of making it someone else's fault when my souffle falls or my cupcake crumbles.

I am the baker of my dreams. I add the yeast, the flour, the salt and water to create a wonderful, hearty loaf of my choosing.

Ain't that grand?

And now, I'm off to bake bread. To make a proof and let it rise. To mix and stir and knead and pound and pummel the dough so that it can rise up, full of goodness, luscious, delicious and hearty.

A bread of life worth living.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The circle of love.

She is sitting in a chair, a 40 something woman with short cropped hair. She is crying.

Beside her, a younger woman, early twenties, kneels beside her grasping her hands where they sit twisting a kleenex in her lap. Her long ashen blond hair covers her face. She looks up at me as I enter the room, she too is crying.

These are not tears of sadness. They are of joy.

It is a reunion. Though neither of them anticipated they would meet in this place. That they would connect their hearts once again on this day.

The woman in the chair is a client of the shelter where I work. She's been there almost four years. An abusive past. Relationships gone bad. Health deteriorating. A life-changing disease that leaves her feeling helpless, frightened and fragile.

The younger woman has come to volunteer with her workplace as part of their United Way Days of Caring. She wonders, even before she comes, if her mother might be here. She wonders if she might see her.

And then she does.

The group of volunteers have just finished their tour of the building. They step onto the elevator and she sees her. Her mother standing on the far side of the elevator. She sees her and tears start to flow. "Mom," she whispers. And then louder. "Mom."

The older woman looks into the crowd of people on the elevator with her. She barely recognizes the young woman. "She's changed so much since I last saw her," she tells me later. "Her hair is less red. Straight too. And she's cut it." Tears are still streaming down her face when she tells me this. Tears of joy. Of sorrow. Of fear. Of regret. Tears that she has held back for a long time in this place where she has hidden out, trying to forget the past she cannot change.

One of my staff has called me down to his office where the women sit. He is excited. Nervous. Unsure of what to do. The rest of the volunteer group wait in the Volunteer Office lobby. They're supposed to be back at the office. But they too do not want to leave. They have been part of this reunion. They don't want it to end.

I open the door to the office where the two women are crying together. The younger one says, "I have to get back. Everyone's waiting. I'll be back at 3:30 to pick you up. We'll go for coffee. Dinner. We'll just go."

Tears streaming down her face, the mother nods her head. She looks at me. "This is my daughter," she cries. "My daughter."

The daughter stands up from where she has been kneeling beside her mother. "I found her," she says. "I've finally found her."

The daughter hugs her mother tightly and leaves. The mother sits in the chair, unable to move, unable to stop crying. "What am I going to do?" she cries.

"Breathe," I tell her. "Breathe and take it one step at a time."

I have tears in my eyes. I am moved by this moment, moved back to a time when I too held my daughters in my arms for the first time after having disappeared from their lives. In the throes of a relationship that was killing me, I believed it was the best thing I could do for them. I believed they deserved better than me. That I wasn't worthy of their love.

I was wrong.

"It's been years," she says. "I saw her two years ago. Briefly. On a subway platform. I couldn't stop. Couldn't talk to her. I was..."

And she starts to cry again.

"You know she tried to find me a few years ago. Went to shelters in the city. But she never came here. This place was too scary to her. She did meet people who knew me. She had my picture. She'd show it to people and they'd say, "Oh sure, that's Susan," but they didn't know for sure where I was staying."

I remember back. Back to that time when I was lost and so ashamed and frightened of seeing my daughters again. I wanted to. Desperately. But I was scared. Scared that they would believe what had happened to me was their fault. Scared they couldn't forgive me.

I share some of that story with this mother who is so scared, so frightened and so happy to see her daughter once again.
"Where are you daughters now?" she asks.
"They live with me. They're in university. They're absolutely amazing." I tell her. "I've been blessed. My daughters have forgiven the past, forgiven me and we have reclaimed and rebuilt our relationship."
"They forgave you?" she sobs.
"Yes," I tell her. "The love we share is greater than the pain. It always is."

I tell the mother this. I tell her there is nothing in the world stronger than a mother's love and when we open ourselves up to our children's forgiveness, we open our hearts to healing.

"You cannot change the past. You can forgive it. Let it rest in peace, you cannot change it. You can move into this moment right now and claim your right to be free of it. There is nothing in this world stronger than love. Nothing," I tell her.

And I know. My daughters love has carried me away from those days long ago when I would believe there was nothing but the darkness that was consuming me. My daughters love has given me life, just as once, my body gave life to them.

It is the circle of love into which we are all born. A circle that can never be broken, even when we are lost in the darkness within.

And when the circle appears to be broken, all we need to do to reconnect is open our arms, our minds, our hearts so that forgiveness can flow into the open spaces and embrace us with grace.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Snowy wonder

A foot of snow blankets the earth, the temperature has dropped into the nether lands, boughs hang heavy, laden with fluffy white wonder, and I am warm inside.

Winter has arrived in all its frosty, frustrating and sometimes frightening driving conditions. Last night, driving home, my normal half hour journey took an hour and fifteen minutes. I didn't pass any accidents. No construction. No snowplows. Just drivers being cautious, staying conscious of the conditions and giving themselves lots of room. Of course, there were also the drivers determined to take the short-cut around the traffic who got stuck on hills. At one point, as I waited on a busy avenue for the light to change, I considered taking a shortcut on a side street. I looked to my left and in the snowy night, could see cars lining the middle of the road of the hill that scooted around the intersection that was so clogged in front of me. Their tail lights glowed like Rudolph's nose, and as I watched I realized -- so did their back up lights. There were at least five cars stuckon the hill, sliding backwards, trying to gain some sort of traction to either go forward or back. Eventually, they all gave up trying to get to the top and turned back down to join the line of traffic snaking towards the west.

I knew I was in for a long drive home when I left the office and the first six blocks took me fifteen minutes to navigate. So, I put on some tunes and relaxed into the moment. Nothing much I could do about the traffic but I did make a -- note to self: remember to put a few talking CDs into the car today.

I have a rental car as someone smashed into the back end of C.C.'s Porsche and there is only one auto body person in town capable of repairing his collectors vehicle to the level he wants. While it would normally be in storage for the winter anyway, the rental he got until February/March when the mechanic can work on his car, is a wonderful gift. My eldest daughter needs a car for University. She doesn't drive standard and thus, can't drive her sister's car -- who cannot drive until April due to her epilepsy -- and so, she has my car, C.C. has his other car and I have the rental. -- whew. now wasn't that a lot of useless information?

It must be the cold. I'm thinking fast of ways to keep my mind working without freezing up at the thought of sub-zero temperatures frosting up my synapses.

It is a winter wonderland outside -- if only it will stay until Christmas! Alas, in Calgary, Chinooks have a habit of blowing in and melting the snow, regardless of seasonal needs. I know. I know. I shouldn't be complaining about the prospect of a Chinook! But... it's really nice to have a white Christmas too!

And in the meantime, Marley, The Great Cat, has not ventured outside for days. I mean, really. Get my paws wet and icy cold? I don't think so.

Though he hasn't lost his desire to explore the great outdoors. He rings the bell by the front door, impatiently demanding we come and open it so he can check, once again, if it's still cold out there. And baby, it's cold out there!

Ellie loves the fluffy wonder all around, but is not so keen on the cold. She races out the back door. Takes a couple of terrors around the backyard. Does her thing and then hurries back to bark for entry back into the house. Once inside, it's a long, frosty moon before she figures she'd best get out for relief. And walk? I don't think so thank you very much. I'm an old gal. I don't need a nightly constitutional.

Or perhaps, she would like to go for a walk and it's just me not wanting to venture too far in the cold. Nice thing about an older dog, she's just as content to lie on her bed and dream about fields of wild flowers where she can give chase to bunnies and butterflies, sniffing scents and snuffing out gophers.

And still, it's cold outside. As you can see from the photo -- it's a winterwonderland outside!

So, to give some relief, I thought I'd share a little video I created from our trip to Barbados. I can feel the heat and sun and sand and smell the ocean and feel the moisture on my skin -- which believe me, in this clime, my skin is drying up and my tan is flaking off faster than a snowball melting in Hell.

Have a great day -- stay warm if you're in northern climes and cool if you're in the temperate zones. I know, this too shall pass, but while it's here, I plan on breathing deeply into the wonder of a winter's day laden with snow fairies and frosty snowmen with button eyes and cornpipe noses looking to play.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Way

Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand. American Indian Proverb
I am an experiential learner. Sometimes, my learning is done in one act, one moment, one event. Sometimes, it takes me awhile to figure out -- what the heck I'm supposed to be learning.

No matter the speed of my learning, however, when I view every event, every circumstance not as a travail to be endured but rather as a gift to be unwrapped, my life radiates with joy and gratitude. My heart beats effortlessly and my body moves with grace into that state of being One with the world around me.

It is The Way.

It has taken me many years to find this place where I know, when I resist circumstances, people, events, happenings, I am creating friction in my life. When I embrace all, I am creating the way to joy and happiness, peace of mind and tranquility.

The Way is not just in the path to be trodden. It is found in the How of the path. How I take the voyage, pick up the mantle, take up the challenge, embrace the situation, become the journey.

I can't always choose the path, I can always choose how I travel it.

Yesterday, I received some beautiful encouragement from fellow bloggers on my post about my encounter with the man in the lobby of the shelter where I work. Each person who responded created a marker on my journey. A marker that helped me embrace the truth and beauty of that encounter. A marker that illuminated my path and embraced me with love and light.

In that embrace I was able to let go of the sadness and anger I felt at what I perceived to be my helplessness in that event, to move into the 'learning' of the ripple effect of the stories I tell when I write about working at the shelter and the people I meet.

And I am blessed.

I work in a place where our human condition is on display in all its depth and gory details every day. These are not all happy stories, not all happy people. Yet, no matter the condition of their 'story' they are all on the path, the same path as you and me, travelling at difference speeds, travelling in different directions -- but always on the human path, searching for The Way to find what we want most in life -- whatever we determine that to be.

Sometimes, what people are searching for does not align well with my world view. I don't agree with abusing alcohol or numbing myself out with drugs. I don't agree with lying and stealing, cheating and conniving to get whatever I want.

Whether or not I agree with what those we serve at the shelter are doing, they are fellow human beings. How we treat them is a reflection of who we are. And our manadate, our mission, our belief is that we must treat them with dignity and respect. That we honour their human being until they can, or are ready, to see that The Way they're going is hurting them. That there is another way to get what they want. That there is an alternative to what they're doing.

Or not. We can't change someone's path. We can involve them in searching for another way.

It is the challenge of working in a shelter. There are so many people on a daily suicide mission with life who cannot awaken to the beauty of their human condition because the condition of their life is so dark and painful, they see no other way to lighten their load than to immerse themselves in the darkness of their addiction.

Or, their mental health is so compromised they cannot find their way without guidance -- and we do not have the capacity to provide them the depth of care they need. All we can do is whatever it takes to keep them safe, to keep them from harm as best we can.

And in that doing, we become The Way for them to continue taking another step and another one until such time as governments, mental health workers, whomever has the power and capacity to change the circumstances under which they live awaken to the truth -- their homelessness is an outcome measurement of the things we've done as a society. Their homelessness is a measurement of how well, or poorly, we've done taking care of people in our communities who cannot take good care of themselves.

On this path of the human condition, there are countless people who have fallen down, countless people who are stepping over them, and countless others who stop to reach out, lend a hand and give back. People who every day take care and make a difference.

I am grateful for all those who read my stories are touched by the power of these lives to illuminate the way to creating kinder more caring communities.

I am grateful for those who read and see the beauty of humanity even in its darkness. And those who read and see only the darkness.

I am grateful for the people I work with who care so much and so deeply for those we serve. They are the true heroes of my world. They stand on the front lines and push against the darkness, letting the light illuminate this place called homelessness so that even those lost in the darkest corners can find their way home again. Without these heroes our human condition would be lost on the streets, fallen over, beaten down, stepped over, ignored by those of us who cannot see the way to creating a better world is to take care of each other, no matter our condition, so that we may all come back to the homes where we belong.

I am grateful this morning. In the snowy darkness of this November morning, I am blessed. In the quiet of my home, I am surrounded by hearts beating in time with mine. In the quiet of the morning, as I write, I am comforted by the realization that there are those who will stop by my blog to read and become involved in the stories I tell. Sometimes they'll comment and always they encourage me and challenge me to see The Way to my heart is always through Love.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In this place.

He is standing to one side of the Information Desk when I come down to the lobby of the shelter where I work.

"There's a man here who wants to know more about what we do," said one of our security personnel when they phoned me in my sixth floor office to ask if I would come down to speak to him.

He is wearing a dark suit. Blue tie. Carrying a small black leather portfolio.

I approach and offer my hand, introduce myself. "How can I help you?" I ask.

He grasps my hand. Looks around nervously. A man, obviously under the influence, clutching a blanket stumbles by on his way to Harm Reduction, our Intox area where at night 220 individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol will sleep. During the day, we keep it open to provide those who need it a safe and warm place to crash, to come down, to sleep off whatever ails them.

My visitor cannot know where the man is going. He's never been here before.

"Is there somewhere we can talk," he asks. His voice is quiet. Soft. A Hispanic lilt carries the words towards me. He looks around him again. "A little more private?"

I don't know yet why he wants to talk to me, to ask about our services. When the call came in I was in the middle of working on a presentation I had to give later that afternoon for a Foundation that was coming in to learn more about our art programming. We are hoping they'll provide some funding. I am busy. I wonder if he is a student doing a class report, or a possible meal sponsor not sure how to go about the process of sponsoring a meal.

I lead him to an alcove on the main floor where it is quiet and out of the way.

"What is it you would like to know?" I ask him. I am curious. His discomfort is contagious. He's nervous and hesitant all in one.

He looks down at the floor before he speaks. "Well, I just want to understand how your operation works."

"Are you a reporter?"

He sighs. He looks at me. His dark eyes pleading silently. "No. I think I need to come and stay here and I want to know what I need to do."

I feel my heart break, a sadness descend upon my shoulders. I want to hug him. To tell him he'll be okay. But I don't know that. I don't know what is happening for him, in his life, with him, around him. I only know, whatever is going on has lead him here, to the place of last resort, a place he never imagined when he immigrated to this land that he would be.

"You don't have to do anything, " I reply, keeping my voice as normal as possible. "You just have to come to our door and sign in. When do you think you might come?"

"I'm not sure. Soon. I have to organize some stuff. See what happens later this afternoon where I'm living now." He is speaking in a rush now. His words tripping to get out. "I have my stuff. I can bring it, yes? I need to pack it all up and then..."

And then he stops. His eyes glisten with tears. His voice falters. His body slumps.

"You will get a locker. It's not huge but you'd be amazed what people can cram into it. And there are three meals a day and snacks and staff will help you. Are you frightened of coming here?" I ask.

He nods his head silently. Doesn't look me in the eye. Looks back down at the floor.

"It's okay. To be frightened. I was just coming to work here. It's okay." I touch his arm. "Would you be willing to speak to one of our counsellors? They'll be able to give you more information and perhaps to help you get through whatever you're going through right now?"

He nods his head again.

I see A.B. one of our counsellors walk through the lobby just behind us. "Come with me," I tell him. "We might be lucky and find one of them is in between clients right now."

We go back into the lobby, I find A.B. and introduce him to the man and quickly explain the situation. "Can you spend some time with Jose? Help him look at his alternatives?"

A.B. quickly says, yes. "Can you give me a couple of minutes just to finish off with the situation I'm dealing with?"

Jose nods his head. I say good-bye. I want to give Jose a hug, to reassure him, to tell him everything will be alright. I touch his arm, look into his eyes and say, "A.B. will help you. I wish you well."

And I leave. Back to my office where I sit and feel the tears crowding up against my eyes. I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to tilt the world and let all the badness and sadness and meanness and callousness and cruelty and ugliness slide off. I want to change our axis so that only good things happen. I want to shake our world up. To rid it of homelessness and violence and addictions and abuse and mental illness and disease and and the drugs that are tearing our world apart.

I want to do so much and all I can do is help one man find someone to listen. Find someone to guide him as he comes to this place he never dreamt he'd ever be.

It is never enough that I do. But if I do nothing, I will never feel I have done whatever I can to create a more caring, kinder, healthier world. I must do something and so I do what I can and sometimes, a man walks in and the tears come and I must let them flow. In their flowing is the gift of knowing, I am not alone. In this place there are hundreds of people who care. In this place where those who are lost and afraid, those who have run out of options, those for whom there is no other place to be, have a safe and caring place to come.


Monday, November 15, 2010

When I grow old

When I grow old I'll read poetry in the bath by candlelight and drink champagne to rock 'n roll. I'll dance until the sun rises and sleep until noon when I'll arise to drink my latte curled up in a velvet robe in a big easy chair in a room with books piled all around.

When I grow old I'm not going to care if my socks don't match, or my roots are showing or my panties and bra are different colours because I'll seldom wear socks and I won't bother to dye my hair.

When I grow old I'll wear bright coloured silks and feather boas to go to the grocery store and slinky satin when I visit the doctor.

No wait, when I grow old I won't have to visit the doctor, he'll come see me and tell me I'm a grand old dame and bring me bonbons and rare red wine because red wine keeps my arteries flowing freely and bonbons are just plain good to eat.

When I grow old people will respect me for what I know and listen politely when I tell them what to do. I won't care if they ignore me and they won't care that I repeat myself and forget their names.

When I grow old I'll walk barefoot in the mud right after the rain and feel the squishy oozy coolness of mud sucking at my toes. I'll laugh and dance and spin about and I won't care if anyone is watching. I won't care. I'll do it because I want to. Because it pleases me.

When I grow old I'll speak my mind without fearing someone else's opinion of me is greater than my truth.

When I grow old I'll write from my heart without fearing other's will see my heart and tell me what they see as the matter with me. I'll write and speak my truth and know no one can take that from me.

When I grow old no one will have to remind me to eat my vegetables or lose weight or get some exercise. I'll do it because it feels good and it speaks to how much I love me.

When I grow old the world will have grown older with me and in its ageing it will know grace, and peace and love and kindness. It will know that evolution isn't about killing off what we fear but rather about embracing our fears and loving them for all we're worth. And as we evolve we'll change from fearing each other to loving the world enough to create peace.

When I grow old I'll never tell myself to act my age. I'll tell myself 'I Love You' just the way you are and I'll know I mean it. I'll believe me.

When I grow old...

Hell, what am I waiting for? I'll start today. I'm going to quit acting like age is an issue and start living it up today. And I'll never feel like I'm growing old, because I know I'm just getting better and better!

About the image: Over at Susan Etole's Just a Moment, where you can be guaranteed of finding fabulous photography and words, she has a photo of two hens and a link to Sandra Heska King's blog where she had a photo of two hens who have taken up residence in their yard and a lovely quote on friendship. I didn't have a photo of chickens -- but I did have a rooster taken in Barbados by "Tammy" which I thought I would share -- and the rooster kind of struts his stuff the way I will... when I grow old! :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Where you walk by. (A Poem)

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com
Where you Walk By
©Louise Gallagher

You cannot see me
huddled here beneath
my cloak of invisibility
I wait
that one day you will
in a corner
on a street
down an alley
and know
I am not a mirage
not a bad dream
come to haunt you
or break you
to where
I am

You cannot see me
but I see you
walking by
averted eyes
disallowing my presence
to penetrate
the blanket
of your blind insistence
that this
this huddled presence
is not reality
pushing back
forcing me to retreat
into that place
where your
sweeping statements
clean up
the streets
of the likes of me.

You cannot see me
but can you see
this place
up against a wall
huddled under the blanket
of despair
where lost and forgotten dreams
blanket reality
in the nightmare
of my life
on promises
to take care
of my humanity.

When will you see
that my being here
is not by choice
I’d rather be anywhere
but here
but here
I am
there is
no other place
for me
to be
is the outcome
of the things
you've done
I've done
we've done
to create a world
where poverty
the life
I coulda' had
if I had only had
the chance
to be
of this place
where I am
beneath my blanket
on the street
where you walk by
without seeing
Today's poem is inspired by the photo and word prompt over at One Stop Poetry. Three photos were offered up to inspire writers and artists to meditate and create on the word -homelessness.
To read other offerings (and they are powerful) please visit One Stop Poetry.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Together is Amazing

Last night C.C. came with me to an event where I was speaking. the event, Together Is Amazing, was sponsored by Shaw Communications Inc, the leading entertainment and communications company here in Canada. Known for its products and customer service, Together Is Amazing is a philanthropic movement -- it's about giving back to our communities to create a better place for everyone to live and work and play. Founded on the Shaw family's commitment to philanthrophy, Together Is Amazing expresses the spirit of a company where people truly do matter most.

The event was organized by Joy Gilmour, an amazing young woman who works for Shaw and is committed to bringing her best to the world. Joy wants to make a difference -- and she is. She planned and encouraged and coaxed and pleaded with people and sponsors to turn up, to lend a hand, to contribute. She created a team who together, created an amazing evening. A beautiful, heartfelt affair where everyone felt touched in a special way by the warmth and joy and beauty of the special light that is Joy.

It was an amazing evening.

Over the years, Shaw has supported the shelter where I work through volunteers, meal sponsorship, Days of Caring and a host of other things they do to help us help people in need. Watching this video -- I understood how deeply embedded the gift of giving is in the Shaw culture, in the people who manage the organization and the people who work there. It's pretty astounding! This isn't a marketing gimmick. It's a heartfelt expression of how together, we can change our communities and make them great for everyone.

As part of the festivities, Joy shared a video the Calgary employees of Shaw created to express what Together Is Amazing means to them. It was touching and inspiring and informative. It made me want to do more.

Joy reminded me -- we each make a difference. And together, we make amazing happen.

The following video is to celebrate Joy's commitment to creating a world of difference -- a world in which every child has nutritious food and every parent the comfort of knowing their child is safe. Where every individual, no matter their condition, has a safe place to come in from the cold, a place where they know they are accepted, just the way they are. A place to find themselves again, to set new directions, to carve new paths because they know, they are not alone. We are all in it together, doing our best, giving our best, and receiving the best we each have to offer with open hearts and minds.

Joy's sparkle lit the room like a thousand candles last night. She touched our hearts with her passion to awaken each of us to the truth -- we can make a difference because Together Is Amazing.

Singing Mariah Carey's 'Hero', the four tenors of Il Divo demonstrate what beauty can be created when we sing, and dance, and work and play together. Each man has a superb voice. Each can sing alone, but, when they sing together, amazing happens because together they create magic.

To my hero Joy. Job well done! Together Is Amazing! (Click on this link and watch the wonderful video that launched Together is Amazing.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wandering minds and happiness now.

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost." Psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University reporting on a recent study in the journal Science.
I went to a Remembrance Day ceremony yesterday with my youngest daughter and my friend BA who is visiting from Vancouver. We stood in the cool November sunshine as TAPS played and a moment of silence descended upon the large crowd that was gathered. Unlike in previous years, the gathered crowd did not fit into the park where the Cenotaph is situated. The large crowd flowed over into the street requiring police supervision to re-direct traffic where the road was blocked off to accommodate all the people.

As I stood and watched and listened my mind wandered. I wondered about our Neanderthal forbears and who was the first person killed by another. Was it out of fear? Love? Desire? Did that person want something the other had. Was it an accident? And what happened after he or she realized the power they had over another human being's life?

Did they feel remorse? Surprise. Confusion. Did they care? Did they even know they'd done something 'wrong' or, was it simply part of their world. We kill animals. We kill people. Did they even have a 'word' or symbol or emotion for killing?

Did they look at the person they'd killed as a member of their 'family', or did they look at them as a source of food? Was it a kill them or be killed survival instinct that kicked in and caused them to respond to a situation that took them by surprise and left them wondering, 'what have I done?' Did they feel a sense of loss. Of sadness. Of sorrow? Did they know that what they'd done had the potential to change the course of our lives today?

According to scientists it's unlikely our Neanderthal ancestors even thought about these questions. Their cognitive abilities were far different, far less developed than ours. In a report published in the Nov. 9 issue of
Current Biology, Philipp Gunz of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology writes, "In modern humans, the connections between diverse brain regions that are established in the first years of life are important for higher-order social, emotional, and communication functions. It is therefore unlikely that Neanderthals saw the world as we do."

I wonder how our ancestors saw the killing of another human being. I wonder how much we've learned.

I stood at the Cenotaph yesterday and honoured the fallen, those men and women who went off to war and never came home alive, and I wondered, what is the point of war if we cannot find peace on our planet?

War kills. For every mother's child who dies in an act of war a seed of hatred is sown into the soils of our collective consciousness. How can we not hate when we cannot love each other enough not to kill? How can we have peace when we look at our fellow human beings as enemies?

Is the antidote to war forgiveness?

I stood at the Cenotaph and I wondered and agree with Killingsworth and Gilbert, wondering about war comes at great emotional cost. And thinking about all the peace that is not happening in our world today causes me distress.

I must balance my thinking. Go back to my center and focus on the peace I create in my world around me. Aligned with Gandhi's teachings, I must be the peace I want to create.

If I am unhappy about the state of world peace, thinking about it doesn't change the world. It just makes me more unhappy.

Focusing my thinking on the here and now, staying present in the moment has greater possibilities for my well-being than letting my mind wander into the past, the future or the lack of what is or isn't in my life today. I was not there to honour war, I was there to remember those who gave their lives so I can be free today to experience all this planet has to offer -- in war and peace.

I went to a Remembrance Day Ceremony yesterday and in that moment of silence found myself once again where I need to be, living this one wild and precious life in the rapture of now, celebrating all that I have and all that I can do to make it my best moment yet so that my ripple affect becomes a celebration of life and love, not war. Nameste.

And for those who have an IPhone, you can track your happiness in the now and be part of Killingsworth and Gilbert's research on human happiness by visiting Track Your Happiness here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Attitude. It makes the difference.

She is walking towards me on the street. Bundled up, I still know who it is. She has a distinctive posture. An agressive stance that surrounds her like an aura. She reminds me of an angry bird looking for justice and feeling helpless after a hawk has raided her nest.

I smile as I get closer. I'm coming back from a meeting downtown, walking towards the shelter where I work. I have another meeting to get to and want to keep walking. To keep moving along but she stops. Right in front of me. I stop too.

"I haven't seen you in awhile," she says by way of greeting.

"I haven't seen you either," I reply.

"Harrumph. Well, I've moved out," she says. "But I'm wondering. What about the blanket drive. Where are you at with it?"

I'm a little confused because I don't know anything about a blanket drive.

"You know, the blanket drive. You must be doing one." She's insistent. Pushy.

"We're not doing a blanket drive right now," I tell her. "We are doing a towel drive though."

"Oh. No blankets?" She pauses. Stares into my eyes as if to confirm I'm telling the truth.

I peer into hers. Dark. Unfathomable. They are lined in heavy black eyeliner. Top and bottom. Her cheeks are rouged. Her jet-black hair forms a halo around her face where it escapes the confines of her red woolen hat.

"We only do drives for items when our supply is low. We've got blankets at the warehouse."

"Well. I need a new one. The one I've got is not very warm and even though I pay good rent on my place, they don't heat it enough." She pauses again. Looks at me to ensure I'm listening. "Do you have new ones?"

"I don't know," I tell her. "I don't get too involved in the specifics of what is in the warehouse. You might want to check at the day office and see if they can help you."

"Harrumph. I just came from there. I go every morning for breakfast. You know, I pay $800 for rent and there's not much left over at the end of the month for food. So, I spend my day walking and trying to get the things I need for free."

She's about my height. In her early sixties I think, but when I get back to the office and check the logs to write a note about finding a new blanket for her I discover she is in her early 50s. I know her by one name but in our database she has two. Sometimes, it's hard to keep track of who is who in a homeless shelter.

I wonder about her life. About what has lead her to assume two distinct names. To have been here at the shelter for the four years she stayed before moving out. The fact she finally got her social assistance straightened out and was able to move into her own place is a blessing. But, with an average cheque of $1200 a month, she's left with about $300 after rent to cover her costs. $75 a week. That's not much.

Back on the street, we keep talking. She asks me about the recent announcement of our Executive Director's retirement.

"He's been here a long time," she says. "It was time for him to go."

"He agrees," I say with a smile.

"Doesn't make sense to keep working at his age, he'll lose his Canada Pension," she informs me. She shakes one mitten covered hand in the air as if challenging an imagery foe. Her body quivers like an indignant squirrel chattering at passers-by. "They do that you know. Take it away. He's 68. If he keeps working the government will just take his Canada Pension and then what would he do?"

I'm a bit at a loss for words. I don't think his Canada Pension had much to do with his decision to retire.

"Mostly, I think he wanted time to relax, to take care of his health and enjoy his grand-kids," I say.

"Yeah? Well it's good he's not letting Canada Pension take his money. It's his. They've no right to take it."

I tell her I have to get back and remind her to check with the Day Office on her blanket. We part and I keep walking back to the shelter.

As I walk into the building another client greets me with a big smile and a wave. He's in his forties. Struggled for a long while with an addiction that wouldn't let him go. For the past year he's been clean and sober and has struggled to find work. It's tough he's told me in the past. At his age he's not as strong as he used to be. Lot of young guys out there beating him to the job. It's discouraging. But, he won't give up. If he can beat his addiction, he can beat the young guys to a job. That's all it would take, he's said. One job to get him out here.

Today, his body is encased in a huge down filled jacket, fur trimmed hood. Beneath it, he's wearing several layers, down vest, sweater, another sweater. He clenches a pair of thick gortex gloves in one hand. A pair of work boots dangle from their laces in his other hand.

"Wow!" I say. "You're really dressed for the weather."

"I got a job!" he tells me excitedly. "I'm off to the north. It's gonna be cold but I'm ready." And he pats his down jacket with his gloves. "Got this in the clothing room this morning. It's real warm. Gonna need it where I'm going. But I got work. I'm ready."

"I'm so happy for you." I reply.

"Yeah. It's great. Twenty bucks an hour to stand out in the freezing cold and tear down fences and put up new ones. Twenty bucks. I'm gonna get out of this place!"

I laugh as he does a jerky leap into the air and attempts to kick his heels together. His big puffy jacket floats up around him. The sound of nylon rustling reminds me of an angel's breath whispering into the frosty cool of the morning.

"I'm gettin' out of this place!" he says again as he gets on the elevator with me. "I gotta go up and clean out my locker. Gettin' picked up in an hour." He smiles a toothless grin. "I'm gettin' my life back in order!"

Two different encounters. Two different perspectives. Two different attitudes.

And a world of difference in how the world greets them where ever they go.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do you remember? (a poem)

Within me is a place where poetry resides. Where a word, or a phrase or an image awakens buried thoughts and ideas and feelings to flow out in a river of emotion and images and words.

Sometimes, they emerge in ways that surprise me, and enthrall me.

The falling poem is in response to the prompt over at Carry on Tuesday, a weekly invitation to use the line provided from a 'famous' poem or song or piece of prose, either in its entirety or in part, to inspire your own creation.

The prompt for Tuesday, November 9, consists of the first line of My Love, an ancient folk song updated and recorded by the English folk-rock band Steeleye Span: Do you remember what we promised when we met. . . .

To read other Carry on Tuesday contributors' poems or prose for prompt #78, go here.

Now, first-off, I have to thank Maureen over at Writing without Paper for inspiring me with her wonderful poem, Cast-offs (and for the copy I used to describe Carry on Tuesday).

And secondly, I have to thank the muse who doesn't care whether I'm feeling happy or sad, blue or gay. She simply moves through me, bringing out what is there in ways I never imagined.

The poem below has obvious connections for me. It's about a relationship long ago that almost killed me. I have long since let go of the pain and sorrow that would hold me down, and have moved into that place where I look at the circumstances of that relationship in awe -- was that really me? What was I smoking? Look how much I've grown and healed and expanded and embraced the wonder of my life today.

When this poem came out, I was once again in awe -- wow -- to be able to create from those circumstances that were so painful is to be immersed in the wonder and joy of my life today and know, I've been given a gift.

Do you remember?
©Louise Gallagher

Do you remember
what we promised
when we met
in that time
when love blushed
with the faint hope
of everlasting
and you rode in
on the rosy dew
of a new day dawning.

Do you remember?
I do.

We promised
as lovers do
in pillow talk
and arms entwined
to never unravel
the mysteries of our love
bedded in the truth
of steadfast faithfulness
to one another
as we held on
to the shiny splendour
of the promises
we breathed
into each other's hearts.

And then
you lied
and I was broken
my heart impaled
upon your promises breathed
into the truth never spoken
into that place
where the light is lost
in the darkness
of your lips
the air I breathed
in a never ending stream
of the promise
of your undying love
holding me forever
in the tentacles of your unholy embrace.

I remember.

So many promises you broke
The lies you spoke
The river of tears you shed,
teeth gnashing, lies raging
your eyes
dark and shielded
your words
deep and cutting
your promises
bled me dry
a thousand leeches
my life
that place
where I was lost
and alone
and frightened.

I remember.

You promised to love me
‘til death do us part
and I said, I do too.
but death to you was more appealing
than our life
as one
you promised never to hurt me
I replied, you’re not that powerful
and I turned the other cheek
opening up that place where
you hurt me
again and again
and I cried
and I cried
and I wanted to die
until even death evaded me
and I was left
like your promises of love everlasting.

Do you remember what we promised when we met?

I didn’t think so.