Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blissful nothing

It is a luxurious Saturday. C.C. left early for a golf game. I stayed in bed and slept in -- a highly unusual and most welcome occasion for me!

Before he left he asked me what my plans were for the morning. I listed off about ten things I 'might' do, and then said, "And then, I may just stay in bed and relax."

So I did.

Sometimes, it's important to let go of the list of duties and lean into the listless leisure of lying in bed and letting thoughts drift through with effortless ease. Of letting my body relax back into sleep. Of dozing in and out of wakefulness, hearing the breeze whisper against the blinds, the coolness of morning wafting through the bedroom. No 'must dos', just a day of 'might dos'.

My kind of a Saturday. Blissfully floating on nothing but the wonder of the day unfolding of its own volition.

Which also means, this is a leisurely Saturday morning kind of post. No real purpose. No real need to explain, clarify, crystallize thoughts or meanings. No need to find that one perfect cogent thought that says, "Aha! Now I get it!"

Like Ellie's blissful puddle waddling, this morning is a day to relax. To let myself be. To let myself recoup and refresh from a very hectic, busy and stressful week. To let my mind stand-down and clear itself of ponderous thoughts that prodding me to 'think about it'. This isn't a morning to make sense of anything other. No need to order up direction. My position is supine. I'm into R&R!

The question is: What are you doing to refresh yourself? Are you giving yourself good medicine today?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Dancing daffodils and blissful abandon

C.C. and I took Ellie and her sidekick Mollie to our favourite park last night for a walk. Ellie, in her imitable fashion, found the first mud puddle she could and lay down and crawled on her belly through the mud. Her golden body wriggled and squirmed. She smiled. Her head lifted up out of the dark waters, her eyes squinted shut. She was joy. She was experiencing life in a pool of pure, total bliss.

Mollie, always eager to match her big sister, exploit for exploit, followed suit. Her tiny white body submerged in the mud, she swam gleefully around. When she exited, she looked like the proverbial drowned rat. She didn't care. This was pure, total bliss.

Deepak Chopra says, “If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time. It's very important to be aware of them every time they come up.”

Maybe it's time to act like the animals. Relinquish control, and wallow in the musty, musky, mud puddles of life, squirm on our bellies, dance barefoot in the muck and feel the bliss!

Bliss is a state of being I have only felt on a few rare occasions. It arises when I'm alone, by the sea, and at peace with the world around me. Bliss is serene. It sparkles. It glistens in the sunlight, reflecting rainbows with every glance. Bliss is the state William Wordsworth describes in his poem, "I wandered lonely as a cloud",

“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

Perhaps it is that in those moments of silent solitude, where clouds drift through my mind and sweet scented breezes blow in from the sea whispering of far-away places and foreign lands, I become connected to the universe around me. I become aware of the magnificence of my world, this world in which we live and breathe together of the same air, the same possibilities, the same dreams and aspirations. The same universe of abundance, filled with turmoil and strife, fear and loathing, possibilities and opportunities, happiness and joy, love and bliss.

Perhaps it is that bliss is never captured. It can only be lived. It cannot be bottled or canned. Stuffed inside a jar to sit upon a shelf gathering dust.

Bliss can only be experienced, in the moment, in those moments when I let go of ego and surrender my fear of falling and freefall into love with the world around me. Supported by the bliss of the universe silently floating by on clouds of serenity, I become the bliss I seek. In love with this moment I'm in, I expand into my soul and release a sigh of relief that I am part of this mysterious, mystical, magical universe of life into which I was born. A majestic place where I live this one wild and precious life dancing amongst the daffodils with blissful abandon, leaping barefoot through the muck and mud of life lived beyond the edge of reason.

Ahhh, this is bliss.

The question is: Have you breathed into your bliss today? Have you dipped your toes into the waters of life and surrendered your fear of falling into love with the world around you?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Imagine if we only had the little things to worry about

So, yesterday my day began with cyberspace stealing my words.

What's with that? Doesn't cyberspace know I just spent half an hour crafting the perfect response? Stupid technology.

Later, on my way to work, I decided to treat myself to a vanilla latte. I pulled into the drive-thru, gave my order, got my drink and drove off. By the time I took my first sip, I was two blocks away. Imagine my annoyance when I discovered there was no vanilla in my vanilla latte.

What's with that? I was looking forward to a Vanilla latte. If I'd wanted a plain one I'd have ordered a plain one. Dang. I knew that woman would get it wrong. She couldn't even hear me properly when I ordered. She repeated it back to me and couldn't remember what size I'd ordered even.

As I drove across the bridge leading to downtown, I passed a man, obviously homeless. He looked sad. Dejected. Despair written in his demeanour.

What's with that? Doesn't he know it's a beautiful day out there? Can't he change his attitude?

I got to the shelter where I work, drove into the underground parkade where I have a reserved spot. As I walked towards the elevator I took a sip of my latte. Still no vanilla. Ugh. Don't they realize how important it is to get the job right? Boy, how to start my day off wrong!

I got on the elevator with a co-worker and immediately told him about my missing vanilla. He had his own complaints. As we rode up towards the 6th floor, the elevator stopped at 1 to let on a client. He rolled himself into the elevator. His wheelchair was scuffed up and battered. A plastic grocery bag hung from one handle. It contained his worldly posessions. His chair only had one metal bar for his feet. He only needed one bar for one foot. He didn't have a second one. I said good-morning. He mumbled back. He got out at three and wheeled his way towards Day Sleep. The elevator moved upwards as I sipped my vanillaless latte.

Imagine if we only had the little things to worry about.

I have the capacity to treat myself to a latte.

I have a car. I can drive through the Drive-thru. Dang, I have two feet. I can even walk myself over to the Starbucks across the bridge from where I work if I don't feel like driving and want to get out and experience the day.

I have a job to go to. A job I love.

A home to come home to. A home that is welcoming and safe.

I have people in my life who love me and whom I love. Arms to hold me.

Imagine if we only had the little things to worry about.

That man in the elevator. He only had one leg. One foot. He's homeless. He lost his job after the accident that cost him his leg. He was drinking. As far back as he can remember, he's always drunk. His mother drank. His father. He doesn't remember anyone not drinking. And then he lost his wife. His family doesn't know where he is. He doesn't want them to. What difference would it make if they knew? He'd only be a burden on them and they can't afford to take care of him. Their lives are laden with poverty. They drift in and out of homelessness too.

Imagine if we only had the little things to worry about.

My day didn't 'get better' yesterday. My attitude did.

When I walked into my office I was greeted with a major crisis involving a client who was mistreated. It took several hours and some serious conversations to deal with it -- there is no resolution. That will be on-going.

At nine pm, I met with staff who were involved with the situation and a representative from another organization. For the staff involved, this situation has caused serious concern, serious angst. They are charged with protecting our clients. With doing everything they can to keep them safe. In this situation, they feel like they failed a man who depended upon them to help him. The aggressor in this situation was someone in authority. Someone staff trusted to come when they called and help them when a situation got out of the realm of their control. I heard their anger. Their sorrow. Their sense of betrayal. It was palpable in every word they spoke. We didn't have answers for them. Only a commitment to 'do the right thing'. And we will. But it doesn't change what happened to the victim. It doesn't repair broken bridges of trust.

Imagine if we only had the little things to worry about.

At ten pm, I rode the elevator down to the parkade and got into my car to drive home. It was a beautiful evening. Warm. Cloudy skies dusted with sombre hues of the departing sun. As I drove out of the parkade I saw a pile of blankets on the stairs leading to a side door of the building. Beneath the pile a man slept. We don't allow sleeping on the property. We invite people inside where they're safe. Staff left the man sleeping where he was. Perhaps they believed he was safer outside.

It was a tough day yesterday. Not because I lost some words to cyberspace. Not because my coffee was missing its taste. It was tough because I had to deal with humanity at its humblest. I had to measure the human condition in its broken up, heart broken reality and know that my best was good enough. My best was all I could give.

I came home to Ellie and her sidekick Mollie's greetings at the door. They bounced around, Ellie gave me her obligatory head butt, she smiled and whined in ecstasy as I pet her. The house was quiet. C.C. was out. Liseanne was still at work. I opened the fridge. Debated on what to have.

I have options. I made my choice.

I went out on the deck. Listened to the sounds of traffic in the distance. To the late night twittering of birds nesting down in the trees scattered along the edges of the park on the other side of the lane.

My neighbour was outside too. He said hello. "Let me know if Dylan gets too loud. I never know when too much is too much with Dylan."

I laughed. "Dylan is perfect for a night like tonight."

And he sang, as only Dylan can sing, "Chimes of Freedom"

Starry-eyed an' laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an' we watched with one last look
Spellbound an' swallowed 'til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse
An' for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. A day in which I got to get over myself with a reality shake and a change of attitude. A day in which I got to live on purpose.

The question is: What little things are keeping you from living on purpose. What little things are amounting to mountains of discord in your day?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Finding a sense of direction

Some mornings technology frosts me!

Yesterday, a reader, Mark, wrote in about my post, "Speak Up!"

This morning I wrote a long response -- and wouldn't you know it, cyberspace stole it!

So, I'll write it here.

Mark suggested that the most effective thing the shelter I work at could do would be to teach our clients how to speak up for themselves and ask for the help they need.

Great idea. Unfortunately, as an example, in the case of the woman I wrote about yesterday, mental health issues dictate a different approach. She is not in a place where she can receive coaching on how to write a letter to her MLA or how to speak to a reporter. Right now, she is acting out. Threatening people in the neighbourhood. Exposing her body in vulgar ways. Vandalizing property. That is not a woman on solid ground. A woman in esteem. This is a woman with a real, tangible, and debilitating disorder. She needs real, tangible and effective help that addresses her immediate needs for safety and stability.

Every day we encounter clients who have these same issues. Often, their MH issues are exacerbated by an addiction that they developed in their attempts to cope with street life and their MH limitations.

People with MH issues and homeless individuals are easy prey for the dealers. Like all of us, they want to belong, to be part of a group. Dealers are smart. They know this. And they know how to lure people into their lair. People who have nothing are pretty easy targets. They're vulnerable. They stand out. They're easy to identify -- and they're easy to con because when you have nothing, you don't think someone will want something from you.

Dealers always want something from you. They want your money, and ultimately, your obedience to the drugs they feed you. Many dealers will give someone a first hit of crack for free. They know the power of the drug. They know that all it takes is one hit and you're hooked. Once hooked, you'll pretty well do anything to get the next and then the next and then the next. Once hooked, you found the place you belong -- to the dealer. The dealer knows this and preys on your needs.

Like any good business man, a dealer knows when their clients are 'in the money'. Hey, it's welfare cheque day. Cool, GST cheques are in today. Let's stand right here, down the street from the entrance to the shelter. Everyone will have to pass us on their way in -- and out. Let's make it easy for them to buy. It's good business.

Oh, you've quit. C'mon. One hit won't hurt. And sobriety's not what it's cracked up to be. You're still struggling to get out of the shelter. Your life is a mess. C'mon, give yourself a break.

It is nice to believe that all it takes to empower someone to help themsleves is to coach them in the art of speaking up for themselves. The reality is, speaking up for yourself is a luxury that only those who live on the right side of the street encounter. On the wrong side of the street where our clients live, the experience of speaking up gets you victimized. It gets you ostracized. It gets you you killed.

Rightly or wrongly, these are people who need more help than others. They lost their voice. Many didn't even know they had one to begin with. Many don't know how to spell it. Or say it. Helping them find their voice requires first helping them get the things they need to stabilize their lives. Like ID. A bank account. Clothing. Food. Shelter. Counselling. Rehab. Health care. Mental health care. Job training. Life skills training. They need somewhere to live that they can afford and that is sustainable. Furniture and accessories to put in that place they might, with luck, actually find in a city where the average cost for a bachelor apartment is beyond their minimum wage earnings. They need food on the table. Many will need ongoing support to stay housed -- not because they don't want to. Their MH issues, their addictions make it difficult for them to retain housing without a little help from their friends.

And those friends become you and me. Co-creators of this society in which we live.

Yup. Writing letters is good. Speaking to media is good. Becoming empowered to do so is good.

I believe it takes everyone of us to write letters. To speak up. To speak out against what is happening on our streets -- and in our homes. Many of those who come to our shelter come from violent pasts. From homes where 'I love you' was expressed with the back of a hand across the face, or a bottle of beer thrown against the wall. Many come from homes where education was not valued. Where MH issues started with the parents and were past down through generations. Where poverty grated against every nickle and scarcity rubbed against the grain of lives lived on the outside looking in.

No one dreams of being homeless. No one dreams of being an addict. This is a life no one ever imagined could happen to them.

Yet here they are. Living the nightmare of their worst imaginings.

Every day I give tours of our facility and speak about homelessness to my fellow citizens. And every day, someone inevitably says, "I had no idea."

Most of us have no idea. Most of us don't want to have an idea of what it's like to live on the street -- and that's important too. By staying off the street, we lead the way back home. By speaking up for those who have lost their voices, we give voice to their pain, their confusion and their turmoil, and we create a voice that those in power can hear.

At street level life is down to the basics. Life is a daily grind. People on the street don't need us to get down with them and live the life. They need us to support the agencies who are giving them help -- real, tangible, effective help that starts at their level and leads them up to a better place to be, a better way to live.

To help, I believe we need to open our minds up to the reality that for those living on the street, becoming empowered to change the course they're on requires a change in our attitudes. We've got to let go of our privileged perspective that says, "Here's what you need to do to change your life," to one that acknowledges that for change to happen, we need to make it possible for them to find their own sense of direction.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Speak Up!

Yesterday I had to write an email to the gentleman who wrote complaining about the woman in his neighbourhood who is causing such distress. He wants her to go to jail. It's the only way the criminal activity can be stopped.

Drug dealers are criminals, I wrote back. This woman has mental health issues. The combination of her 'at risk lifestyle' and an absence of treatment are motivating her to act criminally. Help us identify her so we can work with the police and other agencies to find her the help she needs.

And there in lies the rub. Given enough evidence of social disturbance kinds of behaviour, she can be remanded to a psych ward without needing her consent -- for awhile. Not long. As soon as she shows some compliance she can insist on being released. Two days. Three. Maybe a couple of weeks. Max a month. And then? Back to the street? Back to the lifestyle that is causing such distress?

We can put a man on the moon. Find a way to extract oil from sand. Build crafts that explore the bottom of the ocean. But we can't find a way to keep a woman with mental health issues safe.

I understand this man's frustration and fear -- he has a woman in his neighbourhood acting out, threatening residents, flashing her body.

I don't understand our inability to take action.

Social justice signifies finding a way to treat everyone equally. It means recognizing that in our society there are those who cannot help themselves without a lot of help from us.

This woman and the countless others who crowd our shelter need our help. Over 40% of the 8500 people who move through our shelter annually have mental health issues. These issues are exacerbated by streetlife and the at risk lifestyles they engage in such as not using appropriate drugs and instead relying on illicit drugs to help them cope.

As a society I don't believe it's acceptable to leave these individuals to fend for themselves on the street, or to incarcerate them in prisons. It just doesn't work for anyone. It doesn't create a more caring society. Safer communities. It has the reverse affect -- it creates communities that are uncomfortable for everyone.

I asked this man yesterday to speak out. To write to his Member of the Legislature, to hound his community leaders to take action -- to right the wrongs of the past where the fallout from the closure of mental health beds has led to the social disorder on our streets.

I believe it is something we must all do. Speak out. Speak up. Speak for those who have lost their voice to the street.

And so, I'll now get off my soapbox and get to work!

The question is: Where do you stay silent in the face of injustice? Where do you hold the victim accountable when the victim does not have the capacity to change their situation without your help?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Music of the heart

She is tall. Statuesque. A princess of polish descent. Regal. Graceful. Big-boned. Big-hearted. Big-spirited. Long white hair neatly folded into a braid that marches serenely down her back ending almost at her waist. She's just turned 70+ but looks a decade younger. Her blue eyes sparkle, her brow remains unwrinkled with time's passing. She is kind and caring. Loving. A woman who never speaks ill of anyone. Who does not gossip or betray a trust. She is a woman of great strength. Of enormous character. Of deep heart.

We've been friends since the early 80s when she and her husband moved here from the east. I was one of the first women she met. Our friendship formed fast. The fifteen+ years separating our ages nothing compared to the recognition of our kindred spirits. We've been friends ever since.

She was there for me when my daughters were born, when my marriage disintegrated and my heart was broken by other relationships. When I had knee surgery years ago she insisted I stay with them so she could look after me. And she did. With grace and ease, as she looks after everyone. She's just that way.

And now, I get the opportunity to be there for her. To take care of her. To do for her as she has done for me and so many others.

It's not what I wanted. At least not to have to be there for her in this way. This way isn't fair.

She's got cancer. Breast cancer to be exact. An insidious disease eating away at her body, depleting her spirit from the inside out.

"Women agonize... over cancer; we take as a personal threat the lump in every friend's breast." Martha Weinman Lear, Heartsounds

And I do agonize over this cancer. I agonize over her health and how she's feeling and what she's thinking and if she's going to be okay. I agonize but I cannot tell her that. She doesn't need my agony. She needs my hope, strength and encouragement.

You can't tell. About the cancer. At least not on the outside. She is still smiling and doing. Caring for those she loves, and worrying about everyone.

It is her way. To put others first. To take care of someone else before thinking about herself.

It is her way. But her way isn't helping her right now. She doesn't know how to say 'no' to someone asking for help. She doesn't know how to say no to her husband of 45+ years who has always relied on her to do for him the things that need doing at home. Or the acquaintances who call because they've heard she's ill and want to chat. She doesn't want to chat about her disease. She's not ill, she insists.

But she is scared.

Scared of what the healing from this disease will do to her body. Scared of the future if they don't get all of it out as they say they can. Will it come back? Will some be left? Will they remove her breasts and then continue having to remove bits and pieces until nothing is left?

She is scared yet, in her fear, she continues to take care of the ones she loves as she struggles to learn how to take care of herself.

I can learn a lot from my friend. She is 'poetry in motion'. The essence of love. The truth of caring. She is a beautiful woman living in fear of tomorrow yet doing today what creates value in her life right now. She is painting. Walking her dog. Spending time with her daughter and husband and friends. She is being the amazing woman I have come to love. The woman who drops off a bouquet of flowers because the colour made her think of you. The woman who makes her special chicken soup just for my youngest daughter because she knows she loves it. The woman who calls and says, I've booked you into a painting course, just because she knows I love to paint.

Cancer survivor Emory Austin wrote, "Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway."

I cannot give her tangible things. She has everything she needs and that which she doesn't have, she can afford to buy. I cannot give her cards and flowers. Her house is filled to overflowing. She wants for nothing, except good health and a light heart.

On those days when my friend's heart is heavy. I can sing for her. On those days when she has forgotten her song, I can remind her of the tune.

And always, I can give her my love, my encouragement, my support. I can give her my time. My loving care. My unflagging belief that she will beat this disease, she will come through the surgery with flying colours and sit at the head of the table as she did last night and grace us all with her beautiful smile, her gentle laugh and caring ways.

I cannot fear for my friend. She doesn't need my fear. She needs my love, my courage, my steadfast and unflagging strength. She needs me to be there for her without question, without needing anything other than the gift of sharing my love.

As British Broadcaster John Diamond wrote, "Cancer is a word, not a sentence."

There is only one sentence my friend needs to hear. It is the music of our hearts. The song that doesn't need words to say, "I love you".

Sunday, May 25, 2008

From both sides of the street

It began with two chairs and an invitation to join in a conversation. An opportunity to be heard, to be listened to, to give voice.

I was the listener. The event was a block party for the inner city neighbourhood where the homeless shelter I work at is located. The exercise is called Two Chairs. No technology. No telephone ringing, blackberry beeping. Two people. Face to face conversation. A chance to talk and be heard.

The people who sat on the chair across from me were residents of the neighbourhood, clients of one of the three shelters in the area, people who work in the neighbourhood, and those just passing through for the day.

It was a day of story-telling. Simple. Direct. Honest. Reflections of those who have found a home in the area, or are searching for a place to call home somewhere, anywhere they can land.

One woman came to Canada from Africa in 1980. It is very different here, she said. But I like it. I see lots of changes, not all good. But this city has treated me well. She told me about her arthritic knees. Knee replacement surgeries. And then she told me about feeling scared to go out at night. This isn't a safe place at night, she whispered, looking around to see if anyone was listening.

I thanked her for her stories and she left, leaving the chair empty for a few moments until someone else sat down.

"I phoned my mother today," a man told me when I invited him to sit down and chat. "It's her birthday. I always call her on her birthday. And Mother's Day. My sister doesn't. She just drops off her one year old baby and leaves. It's been a year. It's really hard on my mom. She's too old to take care of a toddler. But who else will?"

I smiled and asked him if he lives in the neighbourhood.

"I live at the shelter. It's hard in this town to find a place. I've never really had a place actually. I'm trying to get my life in order. I've got to get my life in order. I'm too old for this kind of life. I'm 38. I've been clean for 4 years. But it's hard. Not staying clean. That's easy. I look at the guys who are stoned. See what they're doing and don't like it. And then I remember. That used to be me. I don't want to be like that anymore. It's not nice. I know I'm better than that. But it's hard when you can't find a place to live. It's so expensive."

"Do you feel safe on the streets in the neighbourhood?" I asked.

"Yeah. But I don't go out at night. I stay in the shelter. At least I feel safe there."

I asked him how old he was when he first started using drugs or alcohol.

He sighed. Shrugged a shoulder. "I was ten. I didn't know any better. Now I do. Now I gotta do better."

He's signed up to take a three month course to get the training he needs to get "a real job. On a worksite. You know, with a team and everything. Maybe benefits. That'd be cool. I could get my teeth fixed." He smiled, his teeth yellowed and chipped. A gap where the incisor should have been.

It is a common thread amongst those experiencing life on the street. Broken down teeth. Missing teeth. Yellowed with age and lack of care.

I've lived in this neighbourhood for eight years, said an elderly man who lived in a seniors complex across the street. I never go out at night. Sometimes, I don't like going out during the day.

One of his neighbours sat down and told me she has lived in the seniors complex since June last year. I love this neighbourhood. It's filled with such interesting characters. But you've got to take the time to talk to them. Get to know them. Of course, I don't go out at night.

Captive in their own homes. Captive to the street.

It was a common thread through our discussions. It's okay when the sun is up. But when darkness falls, it's time to stay home, stay put in whatever place you have.

When I got home I had an email from an area resident. Angry. Frustrated. Confused. This is his neighbourhood. He lives in a new condo development in the area. Earlier that day there was an older woman in his building lobby. She was kicking the furniture. He asked her to leave. She exposed herself. Later, when he was at the block party he saw her. She was eating a hotdog. One of 'you people' [a shelter worker] had an arm around her. She asked her if she had a place to stay that night. How can she do that, he wrote. That woman is dangerous. She threatens us, yes threatens us all the time. Says she's going to kill us. It's not right. She should be in jail. She's dangerous.

No. It's not right. The woman is not of right mind. There's nothing right about someone in their sixties who suffers from a mental illness being left to her own devices on the street. She doesn't belong in jail. She does belong somewhere that she can get help.

That man and his fellow residents deserve a neighbourhood where they feel safe. Where they don't worry about tripping over someone messed up on drugs, or a deal going down on their corner, or a john trolling the avenues for a 'girl'. They deserve to be able to walk their streets day and night -- at least to the degree that their fellow citizens can walk their streets.

It was a day of conversations. A day to listen. To hear the stories of those who live on both sides of the street.

I don't have the answers. The answers are tough to find. For a neighbourhood that has been in transition for years, tempers are rising as time passes. As one older woman said. "There's lots of plans for this neighbourhood. I hope they happen soon. I don't have enough time left to wait too long for change to come."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Small significances.

"Try to make at least one person happy every day, and then in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment" Sidney Smith

Yesterday I took two clients to buy art supplies for the art program I started two years ago at the shelter where I work.

My intent was to re-stock our supply cabinet. I got way more than I intended.

It was a small thing to do. Pick them both up. Load their stuff into my car. Drive ten minutes. Wander around for an hour. Drive back to the shelter.

A small thing with huge significance.

One of the first things was my realization that in my car I held all their worldly goods. Being homeless means not having a place to put things. It means carrying what you've got with you, at all times. Watching over it at all times to ensure it doesn't go missing. When R and M climbed into my car, they carried backpacks, a shopping bag filled with the artwork R is currently working on. M had his guitar and a satchel with his artwork. They may travel 'light', but there is nothing light in having to continually move all your stuff with you.

When we got to the store, R and M were like kids in a candy shop. "What's the budget? Is it okay if we switch from acrylics to water-based oils? We could really use one of these, and these, and these."

At one point, there was another artist in the store. A woman buying some acrylics. M and the woman had a long conversation about the effects of retarder and how it adds texture to the paint. I stood and listened, and was in awe of their interaction as they shared their love of painting. No labels. No judgements. Just two artists talking about techniques of their craft.

As we drove back M told me about an incident he recently experienced in the park. It's an island retreat in the downtown core where he likes to go on sunny days to play his guitar, paint, draw, read. One day, four police officers walked towards him. One approached, the other three stood back, as he describes, "Keeping their distance in case they had to draw their guns."

The officer greeted him with a friendly, "Good afternoon, sir. Nice day."

"Yes it is," replied M, putting down his pencil to pay attention to the officer.

"Lots of people out today," the officer continued.

"Well, this is a perfect place for them to come," said M.

"Yes, it is," said the officer. "Have you noticed any homeless people around today?"

M. was surprised and taken aback by the officers question. He looked around. Looked at the four officers watching him. He wondered if they were expecting him to jump up and say, "Caught red-handed. I'm one of them there homeless people you're looking for!"

He wanted to laugh. To break out in dance. To run and look under a bush and show the officer where he might find one of them homeless. Instead, he politely responded, "Nope. Not today."

"Well, thanks for your time," said the officer. "We're here to keep the park safe." And the officer joined his compatriots and walked away, eyes alert for 'them there homeless'.

In the car we joked and laughed about the encounter. But it wasn't really that funny. It was rather sad. Pathetic. Disturbing.

Perhaps if the officer had asked, "Have you noticed any drug activity around here today?", the encounter would not have been so distressing.

It is an equation that adds up to life on the other side of the street. Homeless = Criminal.

M knows who he is. He is a man who has paid a deadly toll for the alcohol that robs him of his will to rise above the circumstances of his life. He is not a criminal. He is a man with an addiction. A man who is searching for a way to find some sense in the nonsense of being homeless. Will he ever find the path out of homelessness back to well-being? Maybe. Maybe not. Until he does, until he awakens to the truth of his beauty, it is vital that he be treated with the dignity his human condition bestows upon all of us.

R is a gambler. He too struggles to make sense of the nature of the beast that controls him. He too deserves to be treated with the dignity of the human condition we all share.

Both are gifted artists.

As we got back to the shelter they thanked me for the experience. Their smiles broad. Their gratitude real.

It was a small thing to go shopping for art supplies -- yet the significance will continue to resonate for all of us as we move through our days.

For me, it was a reminder that beneath the 'condition' of their lives, are real people, human beings struggling to find their voice, their courage, their sense of being human.

And for M and R, it was a chance to feel their worth. To feel respected as artists. To be part of the human condition beyond the street. That place where their gifts and talents transcend the circumstances of their lives.

It was a great afternoon. An afternoon for which I am grateful.

The question is: Who can you make happy today? What one small thing can you do that will make a difference in someone else's life?

Friday, May 23, 2008

This precious privilege of life

I awoke to an early morning phone call from my daughter. She's in Thailand, on the last 12 days of a 3 1/2 month journey through Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.

We've got a party planned for when she returns. It will be a birthday, homecoming celebration. A night for friends and family to gather and hear her stories, and share in her journey.

But first, she has to experience these last 12 days before coming home.

"This last two weeks is hard," she told me, her voice crackling across the transpacific airwaves. "I'm so homesick."

Nearing the end of a journey can be more challenging than starting out. The exhilaration of new adventure begins to wane, the distance to go shortens. Our sights begin to turn inward, closer to where we're at. We do not see adventure waiting, we see homecoming, the end, the finish line, the completion nearing.

Like climbing a mountain, a journey away from home takes us to new heights, new vistas, new perspectives. And then we begin the descent. That journey homeward where we are tired, our bodies replete with the new perspectives we've gained. Our minds scream out for rest, but we must journey onward, for as Robert Frost wrote, there are "miles to go before I sleep".

Journey's are not in getting to the destination. They're about experiencing every moment of the voyage. Stopping to take in the views. Resting to let time catch up to where we're at. Stepping forward to move from one moment to the next. Journies are about feeling the ground beneath our feet. They're about stepping firmly onto any terrain so that we can claim our right to stand tall, stand firm, stand up for who we are, our beliefs, our values, our desires where ever we are in the world.

For Alexis, sharing her journey with me from a phone on the other side of the world, her words racing around this ball spinning through time in another zone, home feels like a long, long way away. Coming home feels like forever.

For me, sitting here on this side of the hemisphere where the sun has broken from behind sodden grey clouds, my daughter feels like she's a world away. I want to reach out and hug her, tell her she's okay, she's courageous, she's on the journey of her lifetime today, don't rush it. Soak up these last few days, drain every moment of experience, live every moment with abandon.

The journey has just begun. She may never pass that way again, may never travel those roads in the future. This is the time to stand tall and embrace whatever the road has to offer without fearing once she's home she'll miss where she's at.

As we hung up she whispered into the phone. "Thanks for your insights mom. I needed to hear your voice."

What greater gift can a mother ask for? A daughter who has the courage to travel around the world. Who can ride elephants and raft down wild rivers. A daughter who is willing to stretch beyond her comfort zone into the great big world around her and experience the multi-coloured facets of being on foreign soils, far from home. A daughter who, no matter where she is in the world, still wants to call home and talk to her mother just so she can say, "I love you."

That is an awesome gift. I am truly blessed.

As I journey into my morning and stretch into my day, I am reminded by my daughter that life is the adventure. On this journey of a lifetime, courage is not the absence of fear, it is the willingness to move through it and live fearlessly in love with life. As Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who reigned supreme long ago wrote, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

The question is: Where in the world are you standing right now? Are you claiming this precious gift of life and breathing deeply in the wonder and joy of being you, where ever you're at?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Landmines are just a trigger from the past

"You have the power to create. Your power is so strong that whatever you believe comes true. You are the way you are because that is what you believe about yourself"
~Don Miguel Ruiz

Five years ago yesterday I believed I had received a miracle of my life. At 9:14 a.m., May 21, 2003, two police officers walked in and set me free. I flew.

Yesterday, I forgot that it was five years. Until late in the afternoon when a girlfriend called and we were talking about my trip to the coast and she asked how I felt going back to a couple of places Conrad and I had spent time in while he was trying to figure out a way to flee the country. "I believe I have the power to choose how I feel about those memories and being there," I told her. "This past weekend was a different time, a different woman than the one who was hiding out, believing she was dead, wishing it were true. Truth is, I'm very much alive and living it up for all I'm worth!"

And then I realized what day it was and laughed.

Time puts distance between past events. A loving heart fills memory with peace of mind.

Yesterday didn't feel 'significant'. It simply felt real. A confirmation that over time I have healed, I have grown, I have spread my wings and set myself free to live each day with ease and grace.

At dinner last night, I told C.C. about forgetting. "Maybe it's time to close the past off," he suggested.

I thought about his words and replied, "I don't have to. There's no pull to keep veering onto memories lane. No feeling of woe when I think of those times. They happened. And I have grown beyond their pale."

"But you write of them often," he said. "Doesn't that keep the memory alive?"

I cannot change or heal what I do not acknowledge.

Memory is not a living organism. Memory is a continuum upon which we place the moments that have meaning in our lives. Memory is a placecard. A nameplate in our minds. A painting of time and space once lived, that fades in time, changes hue. Shadows lengthen, the brightness of memory wanes. As we move away from that moment in time that was so painful, so hard to take, we change our brushstrokes, colour up our past to create new paintings, new vistas in today. Like childbirth, we forget the pain and gaze with awe upon the creation in our arms.

In memories wake, I forget the hurt and gaze in awe at how far I've come, how much has changed, how different life is today when I believe I have the power to step fearlessly into each moment, committed to be bold. Be brave. Be my best self.

Lewis B. Smedes wrote,“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

In writing of what was I remind myself of what is true today. I remind myself of the beauty and joy, the gifts, the incredible richness of my life today.

In writing of those times, I share my strength, hope and experience with others so that they too can find new pathways through today into a hopeful, more loving tomorrow.

Yesterday was five years since a moment in time. A moment where time stopped, and I awoke to a world of difference, a life of meaning. Since that moment five years ago, I have stepped away from the pain into the love of living my life fearlessly in this moment now where I am free to be all I'm meant to be.

I can't let go of my past. It is part of my life. I can pull the triggers that keep me stuck in believing the past was all I deserve today. In shooting through memory's trapdoors, I free myself of the pain and release myself into the joy of being free today. When I write of those times today, I unstick my thinking that would have me believe the past is my tomorrow. My tomorrows are yet to come. Living it up today, embracing my life for all I'm worth, stepping fearlessly onto the landmines that memory strews upon the road of life, that's me. The past is a landmine best exploded. In stepping on the triggers, I leap for joy. Joyfully, I write the story of my lifetime in awe of my truth today. I am free to be fearlessly in love with this life I believe I deserve, my one, wild precious life today.

The question is: Where are you stuck in believing the past is all you deserve? Where are you avoiding stepping on memory's landmines for fear the past will explode in your face and rob you of today?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How much living can you cram into a moment?

"Not a shred of evidence exists in favour of the idea that life is serious"
Brendan Gill

Oh no! Someone should have told me. Life not serious? Whatever shall I do?

But then, maybe I'll be okay. A long weekend in Vancouver was not about being serious, but rather, about seeing the lighter side of life. Of experiencing life at its less portentous best and more licentious most.

And we did.

Have fun.

Not take it seriously.

C.C. and I hit the road Friday afternoon beneath clear blue skies. Top down, music blaring we drove westward into the setting sun that would eventually capture us midway on our journey.

There is very little that can beat a fast car, great tunes, wind blowing and limitless sky above. With the top down, vision is unimpaired. The mountains loom closer. Velvet trees stand sentinel along their sides, marching purposefully up their crenellated ridges until they no longer find a foothold. Overcome by the sheer elevation they fall back, lose their momentum and give up ground to rocky crags and snow capped summits.

Driving fast, lakes lie deep and impenetrable. Their inky depths mysterious pools of frigid water. This is not a dipping time. This is holding fast to the road, tires spinning, wind whipping, exhilaration rising time. A time where time itself is not of the essence, the moment is the time, the essence of where we are.

In this time, thoughts evaporate upon the air. Conversation lifts off and finds a place somewhere else, in some place else, some other car, some other venue. In a top down, driving fast world there's no need for chatter. No space for words that are too limited to describe the sheer exhilaration of the drive.

Dusk was deepening into night when we stopped midway to the coast for dinner and a rest. A tiny, sleepy lake town. A patio. A glass of wine. A plate of nachos. Fresh air. Conversation humming all around us we relaxed into our environs letting the exigencies of the road slip away.

Morning broke. No rush. No gotta get there fast. Just a vehicle holding the road. Speed a by-product of the pavement unfolding before us with every turn, every twist of the road. Black asphalt leading westward. We followed the dark ribbon, curving and flowing with each turn, each new vista before us.

It was a weekend of laughter, friendship, food and wine and walking. We walked and walked. Talked and talked. People watched and watched some more.

Nothing serious. This is life.

A mud slide and road closure reworked our plans. Spontaneity over came the drive we headed for the southern route. Two days to wend our way back. No top down as rain fell from soggy grey clouds.

And still it was glorious. Windy, serpentine road over mountain passes, along crystal clear waters. A ferry across a river. A ferry across a lake. Mountains looming all around. Verdant valleys. Lush meadows strewn with wildflowers. Swollen rivers racing, racing to the sea, eagerly pushing out of its banks, searching for higher ground, grasping for another course, a different route.

Nothing serious. Conversations that wound around the winding road, looping back upon an idea, a thought, a snippet of a word that leads to another thought, another idea another look into something a little deeper, a different perspective.

Not serious. Revealing. Expanding. Enlightening.

It was a glorious five days. Living in the moment. Experiencing the moment unfolding. Embracing each moment evolving into the next.

I'm with Brendan Gill. There wasn't a shred of evidence to suggest it was a serious adventure. It was an adventure of a lifetime. An adventure of our lives entwining, running together on the road of life. Hugging a curve in the road, tires gripping the asphalt. Of laughter peeling off into the atmosphere. Exploring. Becoming intrigued by an idea, a thought, a look into each other's hearts.

This is life.

The question is: How much laughter is there in your day? How much living can you cram into a moment?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The story tellers

A fresh moist breeze blows in off the Bay. Leafy foliage whispers of days past, of memories of walks upon the beach, of sunsets bruising the sky rose and pink and purple. The sky is leaden grey, the waters the colour of gun metal. And still, it's beautiful. Fresh. Open. Inspiring.

This is an old hotel in Vancouver. Built in 1912, it sits on a spit of land called, English Bay. A girl walks by. Long blond hair. Bare feet. Dancing slippers in hand. Man's white shirt. She walks towards the beach. A promise to self fulfilled? I will dance upon the sand. Swim in the ocean. -- A little chilly for ocean dipping, but non the less, she heads westward. Across the avenue, the grassy knoll and sand and into the water. Brave. I do not join her.

Yesterday, C.C. and I wandered the city streets with my friend BA. We hopped from bar to bar, caught a movie (What happens in Vegas -- wait for the video) and then strolled to a tapas bar, shared a jug of Sangria and a plate full of to-die-for prawns -- a little bit of ocean paradise on a plate of aromatic rice -- on our way back to the hotel. It was a joyfully relaxed kind of kick back day. No worries. No pressing to do's. No must be somewhere before 5 kind of exercise. Just good friends. Good food. Laughter. Parks and avenues. Ocean views and sunlight. People watching and gawking.

As C.C. and I walked back to the hotel I started to tell him about the people walking by. A man, holding his little girl. Laughing. "He's just left the hospital where his son was born. He's going home with his little girl to put her to bed, (it was very late) and then he'll sit with a cigar and a glass of cognac on the patio, the spicy romance from an azalea bush in full bloom beside him reminding him of the perfume his wife wears, the smell of her hair in fresh rain. He'll toast his newborn child, whose name is Adam and celebrate his three year old daughter, Serena and whisper to the quiet night, his voice barely audible in the dark for fear he will awaken the gods of misfortune, "What a wonderful life!"

A young woman walked towards us, her face downcast. Shoulders slumped. "Her name is Sylvia. Her mother named her after Sylvia Plath whose poetry she consumed when in University many years ago. She's just left dinner with her mother and father," I told him. "Once again they've hounded her about when is she going to settle down. Find a man. Have a family. She wants to tell them she's gay. She wants to tell them the truth. To introduce them to Felicity. But she can't. As she walks home she anticipates Felicity's questions coming at her like gun shots in the night. 'Did you tell them? What did they say. Will they meet me? Were they angry? You didn't tell them did you? I can't go on like this.' And then the arguing, the pleading, the petitioning for more time. For patience. She's not looking forward to getting home. She wants to keep walking. Walking into the night but she knows she must go home and face the other music. Her evening bookended by deceptions she cannot unravel. Truths she cannot tell. Truths she cannot face."

It is a game my daughters and I used to play all the time. As we drove along a busy avenue I'd ask them to tell me a story about someone we passed. 'That man. The one with the tie loosened. Briefcase heavy. Suit jacket slung over one shoulder.' Thirty seconds to tell a story.

Street stories. Give them a name. Tell a story.

Like the faces on the street. The homeless who are nameless. The huddled bodies who crowd doorways and bus shelters in this city by the sea. I see them all the time at home and even there, they seldom have a name and the one's they use are often fictitious. Aliases. Always a story unknown. I seldom give a homeless person a story. Their story is all they have. It is all they carry. All they cling to.

I thought I saw a man I recognized as we drove into the city. He looked like a man from the shelter where I work. I was sure it was him. I wanted to call out, but I didn't. I didn't know his name.

This city is a story of contradiction. Of million dollar condos soaring high. Forever views of ocean vistas sailing into tomorrow. Of cast off designer clothing covering a man lying on the sidewalk, his guitar pressed between his knees. There's no more music for him to play. Just a guitar with broken strings and worn out fingers desperately grasping for a note he can no longer find.

Contradictions abound and I wander the streets in awe of the beauty around me. Panhandlers look different here. Some are clean cut. Prosperous looking. Like the lady sitting on the stairs by a bus stop. Washed hair. Nice slacks. Happy looking. Can you spare change for a bus fare? she asked. We kept moving.

It's hard to walk away from the poverty on the street. Hard to ignore. It's also hard to walk away from the beauty on the streets. Hard to ignore.

Ocean and islands, a river streaming into the bay. Mountains soaring high, snow topped peaks running down into the valleys below. A city of infinite possibilities. A city that wrestles with how to become a fashion plate in the imminent arrival of the world when the Olympics take place in two years time. Sweep away the dust. Whitewash the walls and you will have a city that says to the world, "You are welcome here." Unless you're homeless.

Like every city in the country. The homeless are not welcome here.

And then a ray of sunshine breaks through the clouds above and I am reminded of the beauty and the joy of being alive in this moment. Of breathing deeply. The air pungent with the aroma of green and flowers and sea breezes.

In every drop of rain that falls sunshine lives.

In every face I see, there is a story. Some people are just better story tellers than others. Some people know where they're going. Some people know where they've been. And some, are simply lying on the streets waiting for a moment to get up and tell their story. I cannot give them a story worth telling. It is up to them to find their meaning.

Stories exists everywhere. It's up to me to find the meaning in the stories I tell about my life today. It's my responsibility to find the story that reflects the life of my dreams, the story that dances upon the streets as I surrender and fall in love with where I'm at, right now, in this moment, sitting at a desk looking out between panes of glass surrounded by ivy, out across the bay bracketed by mountains on one side and a grassy spit of land on the other. Out across the ocean blue.

I am blessed.

No questions today. Just the knowing that where ever you are, live large. Dream big. This is your one wild and precious life. Live it up.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ocean breezes and flowers

I'm in Vancouver. Watching waves and seagulls fly high. The day is glorious and I'm kicking back, taking a break.

Be back on Wednesday.

Hope to 'see' you then.


Friday, May 16, 2008

This is the time I've got

I love the elegance of what John W. Gardner, an American writer and statesmen said, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

Is it really that simple?

Hard to believe. But.... what if it is?

What if it is all in my decisions?

As my Aunt Marie Therese would say, What to do? What to do?

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

What if I decide to make today the best day of the rest of my life? What if I decide that today I am going to....

and then I list the vital, most important, most relevant thing I can do to take me one baby step, or one giant leap forward toward my goal of using my unique gifts to create a world where human beings dance freely in love, joy and harmony.

What if I decided that today I must do that one thing. No more stalling. No more dragging my heels. No more rationalizing why today is not the best day to do it.

What would I do with my time?

“We don't have an eternity to realize our dreams, only the time we are here.” Susan Taylor

Today, I will pick up the phone and make that important call I've been putting off.

Today, I will spend one hour writing the outline for a course I plan on teaching.

Today, I will use my Six Points of Power in everything I do and say and think. (1. Pay attention. 2. Speak the truth. 3. Be responsible for my life. 4. Ask for what I want. 5. Keep my agreements. 6. Create value in all things.

Today, I will BE committed to DO what it takes to HAVE what I want. I will be the creative, powerful, magnificent human being I am, fearlessly living the life of her dreams in the here and now because tomorrow is yet to unfold.

The question is: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? What will you do today to live the life of your dreams?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

At street level

I was part of a group that performed a Homeless Street Count last night. Over 100 volunteers wandered the city streets identifying how many people were without shelter, sleeping rough. Each group had a specific geographic area to troll, a set of questions to fill-in, a clipboard with census sheet to mark off how many people were 'visibly homeless' and a shopping bag full of 'goodies' to give away to those willing to engage in conversation.

It was an interesting evening.

Of the four women in my group, I was the only one who worked in the sector. My three teammates called me the 'experienced' one. I didn't feel very experienced. I'd never participated in the street count before. I felt we were all on common ground. On street level looking for answers.

The purpose of the count is to identify trends -- the count has been conducted by the city every second year since 1992. Homelessness has risen by 32% every two years since the first count. Is that continuing? Are more people sleeping out? Are more people drifting into homelessness? The count helps project forward what facilities will be needed. And, with any luck, will help identify what's working. What's not.

Moments from last night stand out in my memory like dewdrops in morning sunlight. Crystal clear. A perfect prism encapsulating the moment, magnifying all that is wrong, all that is sad about homelessness.

It took awhile to find our feet on the street. We weren't sure how to approach someone. How to engage in conversation. The first man we enumerated walked past us. "Do you think he's homeless?" someone asked. "Hmmmm. Not sure." We backtracked and called out to him. "Excuse me. We're doing a street count. Would you be willing to answer a few questions?"

The man replied, his demeanour open, the tone of his voice pleasant. "Sure." He swayed slightly on his feet. A tattered black leather jacket hanging off one arm. A backpack slung over one shoulder.

"Do you have a place to sleep tonight?"

"Me? Hell no." He laughed. "I like to rough it. Expose myself to the stars."

"Do you ever use the shelters?"

"Not any more," he said. "I'm barred." He paused. Looked at us. Looked down at the ground. "I'm not a bad person," he pushed a rock away with the toe of his workboot. "I drink. That doesn't make me a bad person."

We gave him a couple of cigarettes. A bag of cheesies. A bottle of water. "Thanks for taking the time for chatting with us," we said as we parted and walked in opposite directions.

And so it went. We'd spy someone we thought looked homeless and ask them if they'd answer our questions.

And that's the part I had trouble balancing in the night.

We didn't ask everyone. We just asked those who's appearance deemed them to be part of the club of homelessness. Two guys walked by, their open necked shirts clean and crisp, a cell phone in one hand. No cigarette. No can of beer tucked into a pocket. we didn't stop him. Another man walked towards us, backpack, weary posture, unshaven face. We stopped and spoke to him.

We were making judgements with every step we took. Every person we met.

Now, some of the folks were easy to identify. Sleeping in the park. Sitting on a park bench, shopping cart parked beside them. A bottle of booze tucked into their bag but still visible. Shaggy hair. Shaggy beard. Scruffy clothes. Dirty hands. Torn pants. Scuffed up shoes. Those people were easy to identify. When we approached them they were always friendly. Always open about talking about their lives -- albeit determining fact from fiction was not so simple. Alcohol was generally the common ingredient in the mix of their perspectives.

At one point, we walked across a darkened parking lot and back in the corner sat three men. A case of beer sat beside them. Two boxes of donuts were open on the ground. In front of them, a small colour TV blared the news. We walked up, said hi and they welcomed us graciously. "Want a donut? The guy at the donut shop always gives them to us at 10pm. He's great."

We told them why we were there. I recognized two of them from the shelter where I work. They didn't recognize me.

They willingly answered our questions. Age. How long in the city? How long on the street? Where did they come from before here? Did they have a job? Did they ever use the shelter system? If not, why not.

They laughed and joked amongst each other. They regaled us with stories of their adventures (and misadventures). Stories of sneaking into boarded up buildings to stay out of the cold winter winds. Of cubbyholes with cable TV because the building management forgot to turn it off. Of cops swarming them in another parking lot where they'd set up their nightly camp because the building owners were afraid of their presence in the dark. They swore us to secrecy as they told us about one building manager and his inability to keep them out of his buildings.

I wondered why they asked us to keep their secret. And why they immediately trusted us when we quickly replied, "Of course." A vulnerability of the street. Misplaced trust. Trust given too quickly. A history of trusting the untrustworthy. An assumption of co-conspiracy? Assumed community?

We talked to teen prostitutes. Runaway teens. Elderly men with years and years of street life beneath their worn out shoes and pockets deepened with the weight of their hands buried deep within their depths, holding off the cold, clutching a bottle for support.

We put a granola bar in front of a woman lying on the grass in a park. She looked pregnant.vSound asleep? Passed out? A man walked by and told us, "She's okay. Just napping. She'll wake up in a bit and move on."

We talked to teens hanging out. Teens hanging on to some vestige of humanity as they politely thanked us for the chocolate bars and water bottles we handed out.

We didn't talk to one man wheeling a spiffy looking bike down a quiet avenue. His companion stopped to chat with us but he kept moving. Kept putting distance between him and us.

Them and us.

Two sides of the street.

One of the last men we talked to stood in front of us as we waited at a red light to cross the street. I wasn't sure about talking to him. He stood aggressively. His arms lifting up from his sides as if he thought he might be able to fly away. It was late. 11pm. Dark.

One member of the team tried to open a conversation with him. "Hi, we're doing a street count. Do you have a place to stay tonight."

The expletives flew fast and furious. The aggressive posturing pushed towards us. I offered him a cigarette. He thought I meant a smoke of something more potent. I backed away. We all backed away. We crossed the street. Kept walking away, his expletives colouring the air behind us.

As we worked our way back to our starting point, we came upon the first man we'd encountered earlier that evening. He was sitting on the sidewalk at the back of a gas station. Beside him, an older gentlemen sat in a wheelchair.

"Hey," the man said. "I know you. I met you before."

We smiled and reminded him of our encounter earlier.

"Oh yeah!" He was visibly more inebriated than before. He had trouble holding himself upright and unlike previously where his conversation was lucid and polite, his words were laced with expletives. He wasn't threatening. Just colourful in his speech. Between the expletives he kept insisting, "I'm not a bad person."

I asked the gentleman in the wheelchair if he had a place to sleep that night. "Oh yeah," he replied. "I'm going there." And he pointed down the street to a building two blocks away where those under the influence can spend the night.

The other man interjected. "I'm going to push him there in a little while." He interjected his signature phrase. "I'm not a bad person but they barred me anyway." and then he added. "I'll be careful with him." He pointed to his buddy. "I'm not a bad person. He's my friend. I take good care of him."

The language of the street. I'm not a bad person. He's my friend. I take good care of him.

The street with a language of its own. Colourful. Filled with expletives. Filled with the human condition pouring out in words of denial. Words of fear. Of pain. Of defiance.

The young woman standing on a corner, looking for business. "I'm not a crackhead," she told us when we asked if she had a place to sleep that night. "I got my own place. I quit doing that shit six months ago. I can take care of myself."

The young couple, tattoos and spiky hair, demographic markers on the dark side of the street. "We don't use no shelter. We can take care of ourselves."

Taking care. Good care. Any care on the street is not easy.

Being careful is not part of street life.

Exposed. Vulnerable. Naked to the eyes of passers-by. Easily identifiable. Easily targeted. Easily counted by census takers on a warm night in May.

We didn't ask everyone if they had a place to sleep last night. Only those who looked like they didn't. They were easy to identify.

And when we parted we wished them well and asked them to, 'be safe'.

Those are mean streets out there. You gotta be safe.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The gift of friendship

Siddarta, the founder of Buddhism wrote in the 4th century B.C., “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

In my teens and early twenties, I taught skiing. Teaching something I loved improved my skiing ability. The more I taught, the better I became at teaching something I loved.

It was a never ending circle of reciprocity. When I focus my thinking on that which is loving and caring, powerful and true for me, I create a world of loving care, a loving world where all things are possible, where healing unites hearts, where spirit unfolds wings, where friendship lights up my life with joy and laughter.

Yesterday, a woman I met through Choices came over for a walk and dinner. We don't know each other well. Our paths have crossed at Choices, I coached in one session with her, and we shared dinner at a friends not long ago. We spent a delightful evening chatting, exploring our common and not so common ground.

Through sharing openly our experiences, we built a foundation for a friendship that we both want to nurture. In sharing, we expanded our worldview to include the possibility of a new friendship in time. We lit a candle of friendship that will light our paths for however long the candle burns. The light from our individual candles will never be diminished, but our paths will be illuminated more brightly through the shared light of the friendship we have begun.

Frederick Koenig wrote, “We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”

I am very blessed in my life. I have friends whom I love and I know love me. They have stood by me when I faltered. Applauded me when I soared high. They have lifted me up when I fell down, and leaned against me in their times of need as I shared my strength and courage with them.

Friendship is the gift that never ends. It is a gift filled with love and laughter, a reflection of the heart shining through the eyes of love. Friendship, like happiness, never decreases when shared. It makes the world a brighter place.

In honour of my friends, old and new, I celebrate your courage, strength and wisdom. I dance in the light of your laughter, joy and love. I soar confidently on unfurled wings filled with the breath of gratitude. Beneath their mighty span I am sheltered from stormy weather, lifted up in times of sorrow, and forever carried on the love you share so freely. You are an awesome gift.

Cicero, a 1st Century B.C. scholar, writer, statesmen and lawyer wrote, “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”

Thank you my friends. I am a better friend through living in friendship with you.

The question is: Do you count your friends as a blessing? Do you bless your friends with the gift of your laughter and joy, dancing in appreciation of the gift of friendship that brings happiness to your life today?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


He was a client of the homeless shelter where I work. An addict. A high school drop-out. At twenty-eight, when he graduated from a three-week job-readiness program at the shelter he said, while proudly holding his graduation certificate. "I've never graduated from anything in my life."

He didn't want to go work on an oil rig, or live in one of the northern camps and work seismic. He wanted to give back to the community. Contribute to making a difference in the homeless sector.

He got a job at the shelter as a care giver.

He didn't last long. Little over two months. And then he was gone. He'd fallen back into his old ways, someone told me.

I was sorry to hear he hadn't made it. He deserved better.

It's been several months since he left without notice. It's part of that life. People come and then they go. You never know if they're back using, or simply moved on. So, I was relieved to run into him at an event I attended last week at a transition house in the city. He's working there. Running their catering business. He's helping other clients to learn the craft. Teaching them how to serve, to order supplies, juggle priorities in a busy dining room.

And he's doing well.

He looked embarrassed when he saw me. "Hi," he replied to my effusive hello as he busily smoothed a tablecloth that didn't need smoothing.

"I'm delighted to see you looking so well," I told him. "I wondered where you were. I'm glad to see you're here."

"You are?" he asked, his hands stopping their constant back and forth movement on the tablecloth.

"Yes. You look like you're thriving."

"I am," he said, his smile breaking out into a grin. "This is a good place for me." He paused. "I wasn't ready for the other place. It was too much. I just couldn't deal with the stress."

"Good for you for recognizing it before it was too late," I replied.

"It almost was. Too late. I slipped back for awhile. But now I'm okay. I'm clean again and I'm going to stay that way."

"I'm really glad to hear that," I said.

"Yeah. Thanks. I still want to work with clients. I still want to help out, but it's just too much for me yet."

"You cannot help someone else until you give yourself the medicine you need to heal first." I told him.

He really looked at me then. Nodded his head. Grinned. "Thank you." And he went back to work.

Medicine. Love. Healing.

Five years ago I had a lot of healing to do. Five years ago, my daughters needed to heal too. They were angry. Hurt. Confused. Terrified. And I knew, I could not help them heal until I helped myself first. Until I gave myself the medicine I so desperately needed to soothe my raging spirit, my aching heart.

I wanted to pick up their anger and take it from them. To take away their pain and carry it for them. But I couldn't. To have done that would have denied my truth that I had been abused and needed to heal. To have carried their anger would have weakened me, and them. I was not strong enough to help anyone in those first months of freedom other than myself.

It was hard. So many people were angry with me. Disappointed. Confused. I wanted to make sense of what had happened so that they could understand and not be angry anymore. But I couldn't do it. So much didn't make sense and trying to make sense of the nonsense of that journey through hell only kept it alive.

I had to step away. To give myself some distance so that I could gain perspective, and strength. I had to find my courage to stand up for me before I could stand up to the weight of the anger and sorrow around me. I had to turn up for me before I could turn around and face the devastation I had left behind me on that journey through abuse.

I am blessed. In having had the courage and the wisdom to seek to give myself medicine first, I am strong enough to share my medicine with others today, and to ask for medicine when I need it. I am strong enough to share love and be loved.

What a glorious blessing. What a joyful gift.

The question is: Where do you withhold medicine from yourself by giving away that which you do not have? Where do you keep yourself down by helping others stand up before you?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Beyond Shangri-la

Mother's Day this year, as it has every year, presents me with a challenge. The card.

What card do I buy my mother?

I step up to the racks laden with cards extolling the virtues of 'Mother'. Syrupy words flow across the paper. Greetings that start with words like, "You were my mother, now you're my best friend." or, "Mother, you have always stood by me, guided me and loved me. You have...." and then the card goes on to explain all the mother has done to teach her daughter to be fierce and independent, accomplished and successful.

I read the words and my critic's minds leaps to my defence, ensuring I don't do something it deems hypocritical, "You can't send that one. It's not about your mother. We don't feel that way about her. Nope. Not that one either. You don't want to be just like her," and the head games go on and on.

Who would have thought buying something as simple as a card could present such a plethora of options, and awaken so many emotions?

My mother is a very sweet woman. Kind. Caring. At eighty-five, she is still one of the most beautiful women I have ever known. She was born in a French colony in India. A place the traumas of the 1930's Great Depression never touched and where WW2 brought her a husband, but no other conflict. My mother never knew deprivation until she left her home at the age of 22 to sail to the other side of the world with a man she barely knew.

"It was like Shangri-la," she once told me when I asked her about the land of her birth. "Nothing bad ever happened there. No one was ever mean or cruel. It was a perfect place." I wanted to challenge her on her memories, to tell her, 'that's impossible', but these were her memories, her history.

And then she told me about her crossing the seas. About entering the big bad world beyond the confines of the salmon covered walls of the sprawling estate of her childhood. A world filled with strangers who spoke a language she didn't understand, who held worldviews far different than the insular perspective of her childhood. "Your father wouldn't let me speak French," she said. "I was only allowed to speak English."

My mother was torn from the lands of her home, from the arms of those who loved her and cast upon a sea of change where even her language of love was forbidden. My father wasn't very forthcoming in his support. We can not give what we do not know, and my father knew very little of loving support. Very little of love or of being a 'family'. He'd been sent far from his mother's arms when he was a boy. He'd always felt he was alone. Always believed he had to take care of himself because no one else would.

Last night at my sister's, where we went to celebrate Mother's Day with a feast deserving of royalty, my mother sat quietly. Her eyes downcast, her mood defeated.

Her sadness has always scared me. Always caused ripples of fear to course through my veins. I remember my mother being sad most of my life. When we were young her sadness sometimes lead to her threats of killing herself. As adults, she still asks, "What's the point of living? I may as well be dead." I've never understood her sadness. And in my lack of understanding, I have struggled to unearth the cause of her pain by challenging her on her position. In my insistence that she explain herself and learn to understand me, I've been a challenge to my mother.

Last night, as we were sitting around chatting before dinner, my sister asked my mother, "What did you have for lunch today?" and my mother answered with a long description of the meals they served for breakfast and for lunch at the lodge where she lives.

I listened to their exchange and envied my sister her ease and devotion with my mother. At one point, my mother started to read the card she had given her, and my sister quietly took my mother's glasses from where they perched upon her tiny nose, and cleaned them. "How can you even see through these things?" she asked as she replaced the glasses on her nose. It is an exchange I have witnessed a hundred times between them. It speaks of the love and care my sister takes with my mother. It speaks to her ease and grace.

Me on the other hand. I'm more like a terrier. I want to dig into the conversation. To get to the meat of what's behind her depression. Her sadness. Her moods. I want to challenge her worldview. To upset the apple cart to see if there are any seeds that need to be unearthed. I want to understand why she wants me to be one way when I'm another. Why she wants me to do it her way and not my own.

It has been a constant thread of conflict between my mother and I. My desire to understand. My constant questionning. My need to make my own way. To find my own path. Perhaps it is that she fears I will be hurt. Perhaps she fears I will fall down. My questionning mixed with my lack of fear gives rise to her fears and thus, we never find common ground upon which to speak of matters of the heart.

I watched and listened to my sister and mother exchange simple words last night and felt my heart melt.

Love isn't a fierce battle to be won or lost upon the words that break open the vault enclosing our deepest fears. It isn't a deep, dark secret waiting to be unravelled to reveal the hidden depths of pain within. Love doesn't lurk in the secret messages hidden within a cypher buried in a vault that only time will tell of its mystery.

Love is in the simple conversations. The gentle touch. The cleaning of glasses so someone you love can see the world through clearer eyes. It's in the meal, lovingly prepared with a dish for every tastebud. It's laid out on the damask tablecloth where tulips grace a crystal vase, their purple heads nodding towards the family gathered round, inviting them to partake of the exquisite repast laid out before them as they share in the unbreakable bonds of familial history.

Love is in the quiet moments spread out between the words. It cannot be found digging furiously in the mud and muck of history. Love is in the moment. This moment where a mother and daughter exchange words about what they had for breakfast.

In the end, I bought a simple card. A card that expresses my love for my mother in gentle words.

She gave me the gift of my life. She carried me into this world with love and the belief that her love would carry me through life's journey. She wanted for me all she never had. All she could not give. Because that is a mother's love. To wish for her child to not know the fear and sorrow, the pain and hunger she has known. To want only for them to see the love in her eyes, and not the sadness of knowing she was powerless to protect them from the world beyond Shangri-la.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Mother's Day Wish

To my daughters on Mother's Day.

I remember the day both of you were born.

Alexis in June. A warm (very warm for this city spread out across the rolling plains) summer's night. Thursday. Safe and secure in the womb, you were late arriving. I remember the moment I heard your first cry. You were still inside me. The doctor was performing a C-section and you cried before he'd ever lifted you out. I remember feeling my heart break open as a powerful wave of love washed over me. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. I remember being absolutely terrified to take you home from the hospital. Didn't they know I wasn't capable of taking care of such a miracle? Didn't they know I might drop you?

You were a quiet baby. Content. Always serene. You loved being held. Loved being able to observe whatever was going on. Did I mention you were a perfect baby? You were tiny, 5lb 11 oz. The nurses told me to wake you every 4 hours to feed you when I took you home. But you never wanted to be woken up. So, I let you sleep. From the first night you came home you slept 6 hours, then 8. Now that's perfection!

It is the legacy of your life. Perfection. Perfectly human in all your imperfections. Perfectly miraculous in all your being.

My winter baby Liseanne burst into the world on a cold, very cold, Saturday afternoon in January. We were expecting you on Valentine's Day but you didn't want to wait. There was too much living going on, out there, in the wide, wild world of wonder you create with every breath.

Impatient. Impetuous. Impervious to cautionary voices willing you to slow down, take your time, think about it before you do it. You carve a path of your own, pushing aside fear, leaning into the wind. You travel with gusto on the road of life, blazing a trail for all to follow, if they dare. I remember holding you in my arms, your sister beside me, the both of us staring with awe at your perfect being. You didn't want to be held. You wanted to get rolling.

I remember you trying everything first for Alexis, showing her where it was safe, warning her of impending disaster. Forever sprightly, a beautiful dancing fairy lighting up the night with her shining radiance and brightening the day with her fearless quest to live wildly on the lighter side of living.

My daughters, you have taught me what love is. You have taught me how to love. You have taught me to see the wonder in every moment. The story in every unfolding of the day leading to night.

Remember 30 seconds to tell a story about someone walking down the street? Or how we'd lie under a tree, staring up into the branches at the sky far, far above and whisper the tales of the WindStory Tree? Remember throwing eggs and dancing around the fire singing "Who are the witches, where did they come from?"

Remember wandering through the tombstones in the graveyard at the end of the street where Opa and Nana lived? And the stories we told of the people who lay in peace as we sat upon a velvety blanket of grass, surrounded by the whispering trees and birds calling?

Remember Easter Sunday at Granville Island, Liseanne with bunny ears and her basket of tinfoil covered eggs? Alexis and Vickie standing by laughing in wonder at her courage to walk amidst the throngs of people gathered on the steps, inviting them to have an Easter Egg.

Remember Tofino? Remember the fairy dancers sparkling on the water, the stories written in the sand awaiting your morning walk?

Remember dress-up and dancing in the night as if no one was watching and singing loud as if no one could hear?

Remember laughing meditation and waterfalls. Remember joy and tears and even sorrow.

This is life. Our life. Memories lovingly crafted upon the beauty of each day enriched by the wonder of you. This is my life. The one where you have spilled the paint pots all over the rug and danced barefoot in the brilliant hues spread out before me. This is my life to which you have added beautiful, golden threads of joy and laughter and all the colours of the rainbow.

You are life, my lovely daughters.

You are love.

I am blessed to have been given the gift of you both in my life. I am blessed to have been shown the path into the dancing light of joy where love shimmers in a vibrant rainbow of colour and life expands in wonder with every breath.

In your lives entwined with mine, I have been given the gift of ever-lasting love.

Thank you. I am blessed to be your mother.

For all mothers I wish you a day of rainbow colours. A life of vibrant hue from light to dark and back again. I wish you a world of never-ending joy where you are free to dance in the circle of love that connects you to the mother who gave you the gift of life and the mother who gave her hers and the mothers before her. We are all connected through the daughters who walk before and after us.

This is the circle of love into which we are born when we are first conceived within our mother's womb. This is the circle of love that sets us free to live upon the sands of time, dancing in the waves of love everlasting. This is the circle of love that gives us the gift of our lifetimes.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Heart songs calling

Sunny skies soar overhead, my spirits rise.

C.C. and I had a 'fierce conversation' last night. One of those one's where feelings are exposed, truth revealed and hearts break open to the deepening possibilities of the power of love to withstand disagreements, overcome adversity and soar high into the unknown world of loving like we have never imagined.

I am a thinker. It is where I find my meaning, my understanding, my comfort. Getting out of my head, into my heart can be a challenge for me. My thinking wants to grapple with the words, to chew them around like cud until I can mash them into a palatable form that is safe for me to digest. In that process I am at risk of divesting what someone has said of their meaning as I work around their words to find a meaning that makes sense for me.

In those moments where I'm busily digesting, I'm not listening. My thinking leaves me at risk of avoiding feeling and of being touched by the rawness of what is being said. It can leave me exposed to not hearing what the other person has said with an open mind because I'm looking for the 'other' meaning, the 'deeper' context, the 'hidden agenda'. (And Mr. Rogers asks, Hello Children. Can you spell, 'Defensive'?) Because I'm looking to make their words 'safe' for me to consume, I risk shutting off my heart to the beauty and wonder of who they are revealed in the things they haven't said about themselves but have shown me through the words they've used to describe their feelings which they may not understand themselves, Or what they've said to tell me how what I do or say affects them.

This communicating with an open mind and heart stuff can be hard!

Writer, Neil Gaiman said, “I've been making a list of the things they don't teach you at school. They don't teach you how to love somebody. They don't teach you how to be famous. They don't teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don't teach you how to walk away from someone you don't love any longer. They don't teach you how to know what's going on in someone else's mind. They don't teach you what to say to someone who's dying. They don't teach you anything worth knowing.”

That's the challenge with communicating.... and loving come to think of it. I didn't come to earth with a 10 step guide to communicating perfectly where ever I may be on this planet imprinted on some dendron of my cerebral cortex. My childhood definitely didn't prepare me for it, though it has a lot of value in the 'what not to do' school of thinking.

Unfortunately, I didn't go to a school that had lessons on: How To Communicate 101. You know, a place where the teacher stands in front and says, "To communicate, you must... To love, you must..." and then hands out an instruction manual filled with easy to follow directions on how to love and communicate without ever being misunderstood or fall into misunderstanding with what was said. And can you beat that? The manual even comes with a decoder ring that deciphers what the other person said into simple meanings that even neophyte conversers can understand. Cool! Imagine that! The Complete Idiot's Guide To Communication. And guess what! It even comes with an inflatable dummy you can practice on! Yippeee. Communicating with the Dummy, 101.

Okay. Okay. So there's a kazillion dollar self-help movement out there that has as many books as there are unique snowflakes on how to communicate effectively and not be misunderstood or mistaken for some lowlife flake the other person used to know. Like snowflakes falling, however, conversation can turn from rain to sleet to snow to ice in the blink of an eye or the drop of an ill-placed word before the converser realizes the one with whom they're conversing is catapulting in with the ferocity of a cold front swooping down from the north replete with frigid climes falling.

That's not to say my conversation with C.C. last night was frigid. It was anything but! It is to say that in the course of our conversation I discovered all sorts of things about myself, my triggers, my fears, my self-defeating games, my strengths and wisdom too! that I hadn't known before -- which is one of the benefits of listening to understand and staying conscious of my patterns and my fears of communicating with an open heart and mind.

C.C. and I have weathered this storm. As we will weather others in years to come. Relationship isn't about smooth sailing. It's about sailing through whatever weather appears upon the horizon, confident that the love shared is a trustworthy craft capable of maneuvering the waterways of life spent living together.

Finding safe harbour after the storm is the gift we give each other when we openly and lovingly acknowledge our differences and embrace our shared experience. In our willingness to explore what is important to each of us, we deepen the respect we have for our individuality and gain understanding of where we share common ground.

Communication is not about making the other see my point of view. It is about being open and willing to acknowledge their position, and then being courageous enough to share mine.

Love isn't about hammering someone into a shape that will conveniently fit into the box I've conveniently labelled, "What you must do to be in love with me and for me to love you." It's about opening up the Pandora's box of fear and trepidation we carry around and seeing the wonder and beauty of the hearts and souls revealed within. It's about celebrating who we each are and honouring eachother's truth without fear that someone else's truth diminishes mine or mine their's.

There are all kinds of truth on the loving planet. It is the truths we are fearful of sharing about ourselves that open the door to deeper, more meaningful communication.

It is the fears we risk sharing, our warts and bruises, our scars that make us into the rich and multi-faceted, enchanting and entrancing human beings we are destined to be when we live this one wild and precious life passionately and fearlessly.

I have many fears. When I hide from my fears, I risk losing what I want most in life; To live fearlessly, passionately, completely. To be a human being of worth.

When I hide behind my fear of loving, I risk losing the love of this man who makes my heart sing. When I step through my fears into that place where love is all around, I risk nothing other than being the magnificent human being I am, in relationship with a man I love.

The question is: Are you fearlessly opening yourself up to communicating with the one's you love? Are you hearing their hearts song calling you to sing in harmony?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Getting up

I woke up angry. Annoyed. My mood a reflection of the snow outside -- unwanted, uninvited and definitely not something I want to cling too.

Life is serendipity.

I logged on. Opened my email and found an email from a woman who has just finished reading my book, The Dandelion Spirit. She writes, "My turning point/healing journey began in late 1997 when he walked out to be with his new 'soul mate'. I prayed to the higher powers to 'please let me learn this life lesson - I didn't want to have to go through this life lesson again' and 'let me make good from [what I perceived at the time was] bad'.

Looking back, I know I was 'used'. I had fallen for the promise of fulfillment of my dream to have my own family ~ I married the dream ~ not the person ~ I didn't really know the person I married ~ not the true person he was."

That dream of 'happily ever after' can be deadly. It doesn't leave much room for living real, being real, finding real value in the opportunity to grow from differences and disagreement. Disagreement does not equal rejection.

Last night, C.C. and I had a disagreement. In my sometimes, all or nothing thinking, I was feeling all washed out, all used up. What more can I do, I wondered? (Did I mention that is my victim's voice whispering?) I didn't sleep well. Spent part of the night writing a letter to him, trying to get clarity on my thinking and feelings. This morning, when I logged onto my site, the header of my post yesterday greeted me, "Falling down is an opportunity to get up."

Last night, there was a whole bunch of falling going on. Just take a look outside!

When we fall, it doesn't mean we have to stay mired in the muck. Just as the snow doesn't wash away the calendar date and the fact this is spring, a fall doesn't break the back of love -- unless we keep doing the same thing again and again, repeating the behaviour that brings us down and refuse to let the new growth of spring sprout up to bring renewed life and passion into our lives.

This morning C.C. and I have the chance to get back up and find the courage to forgive and the power to grow from this misstep.

This morning, snow covers the ground. Above, fluffy white clouds float across the sky, the spaces between their edges filled with blue.

The snow will melt, spring will rise and the air will be filled with the sweet scent of blossoming flowers and the twitter of birds again.

C.C. and I will grow beyond the edges of the anger, the hurt and the misunderstanding -- and as long we stay focused on the love we share and what we need to do to keep growing together. Closer through intimacy -- In-to-me-see.

I can't change the weather. I can change my mood by focusing on the kind of day I want to have, inside me, where the weather does not determine how I feel or what I do. That's my choice and today, I choose to see the brighter side of life, the zone outside my discomfort where I can grow and learn and love and be all I'm meant to be when I have what Susan Scott calls, Fierce Conversations. Those conversations that open the doors to truth. That place where reality grows in love, and commitment and intimacy abound.

The question is: Where do you go when someone you love falls down? Do you storm off into a cloud of anger or are you willing to step into the seas of forgiveness and find the path to where love grows and spirits expand to become all they're meant to be?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Falling down is the opportunity to get up

There is a beautiful story about a young boy who, while running a race, falls three times. I cannot win he tells himself as he lays there the third time, far behind the crowd. I cannot get up. But he hears his father's voice calling from the sidelines, 'get up and win the race'. The little boy wipes the tears from his eyes, gets up and finishes the race. 'I lost real bad' he tells his dad. 'To me you won,' the father replies. 'Each time you fell, you got up and kept on going. In life, whenever you fall, getting up is all you need to do to win.'

Life is not just in the leaps and bounds. It is in the hurdles, the bumps and scrapes, the bruises of running full tilt into the moment, living it for all you're worth. It's found in the tears of lying on the ground after we fall. And its lived in the moment when we get up and keep moving on, keep moving forward, holding onto our dreams and aspirations like a relay-runner holding onto the baton, leaning into the wind, leaning forward, arms outstretched towards the next runner, the next dream, the next goalpost.

I didn't know, on that morning of May 21 five years ago when my dark world was suddenly shattered by the arrival of the police, how far I'd fallen. I only knew where I'd fallen was a hard place to land. I didn't want to stay there. It was far too uncomfortable. With the removal of the man whom I had believed held all the cards, I could see I had a choice to play a different card. I could choose to play the card I'd found lying down on the ground, or I could get up from that place where I was lying, broken and bruised, and move away from where I didn't want to be.

To let go of the discomfort, to find myself amidst the destruction all around me, I had to get up and move away from that place of horror, of shame, or fear and sorrow. I had to get up to show my mind through my body's motion where I wanted to go. In getting up, my mind awoke to the truth that I could keep on running, keep on racing. At first, my gait was not very fluid, my pace not very strong. But, like a child learning to walk, with each step I took, with each foot forward, amidst the stumbles and slips backward, I kept moving forward. I had to. There were lives at stake, dreams to awaken, wounds to heal.

Life is filled with obstacles. It is filled with opportunities. How we see the road ahead depends upon our attitude. We can leap out of bed with cheerful anticipation of the adventure to come. We can lie in bed, steadfastly holding onto our wait and see what happens next trepidation, as we wearily throw back the covers and force our body into action, or we can lace our shoes up with dread and loathing as we fear the path ahead, knowing nothing will ever change because we refuse to see that to change our journey we change our attitude.

It's all in our attitude.

Five years ago I awoke to the loathing of another day to be spent in hell. I had given up all hope of a better future as I saw each moment through the filter of the dreaded past. I stepped out of bed, tired, weary. I believed what I was living was all I deserved. Even death had no time for me as I lay supine on the road to hell wishing someone would come and release me from my existence. And then, one moment changed. The light shifted, the world revolved one more turn and my worldview expanded to include the possibility of life away from abuse.

In having fallen so hard on the road of life, I know it's hard to imagine there's a better way, another place that you can be other than the one you're in.

But there is. There always is. As long as we're breathing. As long as there's life flowing through our veins carrying blood and oxygen to our heart, our mind and limbs, there is always another way. You just have to stand up and claim your right to take the next step away from where you don't want to be. You just have to claim your right to be a winner by getting up.

In my getting up from that hell I was lying in, I convinced my mind that I had the ability to change my attitude and my aspect. From supine to standing up, there's a world of difference.

In standing up, I'm learning to walk tall, live large. I'm learning to live fearlessly, passionately in love with the good, the bad and the not so pretty aspects of me.

Once upon a time I fell upon the road of life and didn't believe I could ever get up again. I proved myself wrong. Five years later, when I fall, I fall in love all over again with me, myself and I. I fall in love with my ability to get back up and take another step forward. I fall in love with my attitude of possibility, my attitude of believing there is always hope as long as I keep breathing that this race will be different. All I have to do is do it differently than I did when I didn't believe I was worth living for.

The question is: What's your attitude? Are you looking at the ground, your nose pressed into the dirt breathing in the musty odour of failure? Or, are you getting up and taking a step away from where you were lying so that you can walk tall, living large?