The Rules

I’ve been writing here for some time now and quite often it relates to my work at The Dale.  Close to twenty years ago, in my early days of doing this kind of work, I would send out hard copy newsletters to the people supporting me (I still do, but on a lesser scale). Those newsletters were most effective when they contained real stories of my every day life. Now I have access to this public platform in order to share. I am aware this opens up all kinds of possibility, i.e. having a far wider reach, but also demands maybe a different level of care. I have no control over who reads or shares my little newsletter.

I want to assure all of you that I have created some ‘rules’ for myself here. One is that I seek permission from the community to tell their stories. Sometimes I am told right in the middle of an experience that I should “make sure I tell people about this” or that I don’t need to ask. Other-times I know immediately that a story should be held tight and it stays in my heart or journal. Another rule is that I change defining features of people in order to uphold their confidence. This isn’t always necessary, but when it is I will for example, change someone’s name (I put the new name in quotation marks). Further, I sometimes need to generalize an experience so that it is less about an individual and more about what I learned through them.

I don’t take my responsibility here lightly. Each day I pray that my eyes, ears and heart will be open to what I need to see, hear and learn. And I assure you, I know that I need to be taught a LOT. I am humbled by the invitation I have received to be in the position I am at The Dale and hope to represent it well, in as transparent and vulnerable way as possible.

Thank you to my readers for supporting and challenging me along the way. I know there is no shortage of reading material out there and so I appreciate when people choose to drop by. The journey is made sweeter by not being alone.

I am rather exhausted. Do you ever feel that way? Just tired out in every possible way? There have been a number of things going on that I am right in the middle of, though aren’t necessarily about me (or at least not directly) that are lending to my weariness.

Maybe a decent, though intense example of this occurred recently at the drop-in. On this day there seemed to be something in the air that was lending itself to everyone, including me, being out of sorts. A long-time friend and community member was in a bad way which led to some very poor behaviour choices, including becoming very threatening.  We are committed to keeping the drop-in safe AND respectful, so an intervention was required. I want to be clear: this person wasn’t threatening me. In fact, every time I was able to catch his gaze as I stood in front of him, he slowed down and tried to remind me that he has respect for me and “didn’t want to do this”. Though I was able to guide him close to the door, things didn’t end well. One final threat toward someone else, which included a fist, landed inadvertently on me.

I’m okay. Maybe a little shaken in the moment, though fine. I know that what happened had very little to do with me. In fact, it had very little to do with anyone who found themselves on the receiving end of this person’s anger. Knowing this doesn’t make what happened justifiable, it just helps provide a larger context and I do believe that context is important. My friend has some very deep-seated pain that is coming out in a very displaced way. In fact, as we spoke he encouraged me to know this and share it. I suspect we have all been through something similar: acting out towards others as a result of our own struggles, fist or no fist.

Since Monday I have moved steadily from hard situation to hard situation, with very little time in between. I am grateful for the space this little blog creates in my life to slow down, ponder and figure out how to articulate the things I am constantly learning and being taught (sometimes over and over again), particularly in the midst of a lot of challenge.

Maybe now I can actually have a nap.

I was standing outside The Gateway- a shelter my husband used to direct- removing turkey after frozen turkey from my car, handing them to a few guys staying in the shelter, watching each (15 in total) being carted into the building via bright yellow laundry carts, all so that my caterer friend could cook them for The Dale’s February Feast and I thought, “I have a wild job”.

While I was manoeuvering the turkeys over a very large snow bank I looked up to see the huge smile of one of my Parkdale friends. I had known of some of his recent struggles and that he needed a shelter bed; I didn’t know that he ended up at The Gateway. We got the surprise opportunity to connect and have a really beautiful conversation about his personal growth over the last month.

From there I went to Parkdale Community Health Centre for our Art Drop-In. There I ate pancakes made by a community member, received a precious gift of a lion and a lamb fashioned out of clay, performed first aid on someone’s head, held the hand of someone in crisis, drank too much coffee and reminded people to come on Friday for the feast where I assured them, there would be a lot of turkey.

Joanna and I next went to a community member’s apartment. This person needs to move, but can’t until some things are fixed up. So, we all donned rubber gloves and got to work cleaning and painting. Being in the middle of a massive low-income building can be an eye-opening experience, one that I think all people should be required to have.  I found myself thinking again about how wild my days are.

Sometimes when I tell these kind of stories people suggest I should write them down. I usually smile and suggest that all of this will be hard to believe, that “everyone will think I’m embellishing!”. In truth, most days are as varied as the one I am recounting here. I get to journey with a wonderful spectrum of people, experiencing a gamut of emotions

Later in the evening on this same day I joined our outreach team and walked the neighbourhood. We never know what will happen and simply endeavour to have our eyes, ears and hearts open to whoever we might meet and whatever we might learn. On this night we had a number of great chats with people, the topics of conversation ranging from theology to gentrification to politics to music to weather patterns to, you guessed it…



A Complicated Grief

Six years ago today my Dad died. I remember, as though it were yesterday how I felt when I got the phone call, drove to his house, sat in a living room across the street from his house as the paramedics did their work, told Cate, planned a service and spoke a eulogy. In many ways those first days and weeks felt like a blur. My grief actually intensified as the days wore on.

I miss him. I hate that he never knew my nephews. I’m sad that he isn’t at Cate’s birthday parties anymore. I still can’t believe he’s gone, though I completely understand that he is. I even have fleeting thoughts that I need to call him and ask his advice on something.

Though I feel rather raw and consistently on the verge of tears today, I am also aware of a deep gratitude that keeps growing inside of me. I had a Dad that I loved and even though he isn’t here, still love. He taught me a lot about doing things well and working hard, something that informs my everyday life at The Dale. I learned a lot about honest communication and confronting in love because of my relationship with my Dad.

I have good friends and family who are remembering with me today. I am surrounded by people at The Dale Drop-In who are loving me through it. I look around at people drinking coffee, jamming, chatting and cooking and think, “this is good“. My Dad isn’t here to see it, but I have the strong feeling that he would be proud. And that, however melancholy I might seem, makes me very, very happy.