Forced to Rest

Last Wednesday I left our morning drop-in to go home because I felt awful. I got home around 12:30 pm, crawled into bed and slept until 4:30 pm. I hardly ever sleep during the day like that. I continued to doze into the evening, slept all night and remained in bed throughout the next day. I don’t know what I had. A cold, or maybe a touch of a flu? If I’m honest, I know that mixed into the sickness was stress. The combination meant my body had no other option but to stop and rest.

Just days before I fell ill I received the call that a friend, fellow musician and core member of The Dale had taken his own life. In disbelief I called the police, longing to hear it was a mistake. It wasn’t. This news arrived on the heels of officiating two funerals already this year. Since last summer we have said goodbye to Cowboy, Rob, Leonard, Barry, Jackie, Will and now Clive. All of this death means that one grief seems to bleed into another, rarely with enough space between to come up for air.

A few people have recently asked me if in order to manage these losses I keep a safe distance away- I guess sort of clinically detached. I am actually quite the opposite, deeply weeping and mourning for all of my friends. I feel determined to honour each one with dignity and respect, so much so that I, along with Joanna, have taken responsibility for people with no next of kin. I don’t want to be hardened to all of this. I recognize too that in order to stay healthy I must create space to process, grieve and rest.

Besides a lot of sleeping last week, I took time to pray, watch funny television and drink cup after cup of tea with honey. I endeavoured to sit in gratitude for a bed and quiet home to recover in. It wasn’t all picturesque: I ugly cried and wrestled with God too. As I began to come out the other side, I was able to give thanks for how God continues to walk with me in these valleys. These deaths, simply put, suck. There is also something deeply beautiful about being there with people at the end of their lives AND with those left behind.

As we plan this next funeral, we are thinking about the small repertoire of songs that our friend played regularly in the corner of the drop-in. One of them was Green Day’s “Time of Your Life”. It has been stuck in my head for days and seems a good, though maybe tragically ironic way to end this post. 

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.




When Stress Gives Way to Thanks

I started last Saturday with getting a massage. Doing this always feels like some amazing luxury that I don’t really deserve, except I know that it helps keep me healthy. Apart from my heart, I tend to carry my stress in my shoulders and neck. 2016 has been pretty heavy thus far and on this particular day we were about to have our annual February Feast, an event that is bigger and sometimes more challenging than anything else we do. Seeing a massage therapist felt in order.

Before heading to Parkdale I stopped at The Gateway to pick up the turkey Second Harvest provided for our feast. We simply don’t have the kitchen capacity to cook as much turkey as we need (150+ people), so my caterer friend Sammy has his crew do it in the kitchen of this Salvation Army shelter. This relieves much of the “feast stress”, so I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me as the meat and a bucket of drippings for gravy were loaded into the car.

When I arrived at the drop-in, Joanna acknowledged that she too was feeling some angst about the night ahead. We went to the storage room and took a few moments to pray, for: enough food to go around, volume issues with the Open Stage portion of the night to be well managed and peace to prevail. We both took a deep breath and went back to helping set things up.

What transpired next was a reminder of why I love being at The Dale. We had more hands than we even needed to set up the room and cook the rest of the meal. The room totally filled up in time for our 6 pm start. Everyone got to eat and while some were concerned that their portion would be too meagre, it wasn’t. A few situations threatened to erupt, but were solved without major incident. The Parkdale Villager (our local paper) surprised us by sending a photographer to document the night. There was music and dancing.

One of my favourite moments was when my daughter Cate got up to share a song. As soon as she started to strum her ukulele and open her mouth, a hush descended upon the room. From my vantage point I could see how everyone stopped and really listened, erupting into encouraging applause at the end. The pride that I feel for Cate was reflected back to me in the eyes of the community. It was beautiful.

Joanna and I high-fived at the end of the night in acknowledgement that we’d been witness to God’s presence and our team at work. I realized the stress I was carrying in the morning slowly dissolved as I took notice of so many good things: the provision of Second Harvest, turkeys being cooked for us, a relaxed kitchen crew, a man being able to eat for the first time in days, a sense of celebration and fun. I’m hoping the memory of this Feast will linger for a long time.




Monday Drop-In: A Glimpse into How it Works

If you have never been to The Dale, coming to a Monday Drop-In is a great way to be introduced to our community. It is here that you can see what it means for our people to be invited into ‘full participation’. As messy as it gets, the Drop-In is also a pretty well oiled machine.

Many of our community members, aka volunteers show up around 9:30 am. A huge urn of coffee is put on to perk, tables are set and food prep begins. I arrive at 1o with any additional groceries we need in hand, clean laundry (mostly tea towels and aprons) and occasionally tokens that will be distributed throughout the day. Souad, our Volunteer Kitchen Coordinator guides the action by asking her “sweeties” and “munchkins” to chop the vegetables and get things in the pots. As she so often says, The Dale kitchen is not her’s, but ours. And she’s right.

Joanna and I are in and out of the kitchen, some days more than others, but usually to disinfect a sink, help with some dishes and deliver items from the storage room. We are thrilled to have such an amazing crew cooking really good food for what can be up to 120 people. Trusting our team means that we are free to connect with people in the drop-in. There is usually a nice hum in the room, accented by people jamming on musical instruments in the corner. Yesterday Mr Bojangles was practically on repeat.

There are times when things can get difficult. Take yesterday, when a couple of people had open alcohol in the space. We endeavour for The Dale to be both safe AND respectful and so immediately needed to ask our friends to stop drinking or take it outside. They did. Sometimes people come in crisis, simply needing to be heard and loved. Oftentimes we get to hear very, very painful stories. We also come having our own off days. I can attest to the fact that I have arrived at the Drop-in very much needing to be listened to and hugged.

Just before 1 pm I welcome people and explain how things work: we bring platters of food to every table and ask that each person ensure its fair distribution, at the end of the meal we are all invited to take our dirty dishes to some big bins of soapy water by the kitchen. We give a round of applause to the many people who have helped on that day, explaining this is a meal for the community, by the community. Then Joanna gives a run-down of our weekly schedule, Souad describes the meal and I lead a short prayer.

Yesterday we had a beautiful green salad with fresh garlic and lemon juice, meat patties, ham, a sort of ratatouille, fruit salad and banana cake. People routinely comment on how restorative eating healthy food is. I am convinced that something special happens when people sit around a table sharing food.

Clean-up requires rinsing dishes before running them through a Disinfector and often involves blaring “Stand by Me” and dancing in the kitchen (I highly recommend it). Because we use a space that is not our own, we have to leave it as we found it. All of our kitchen supplies need to be put back in our little storage area in another room. We work to be done by 3 pm.

If you are ever close to 250 Dunn Avenue on a Monday, please drop by. We will encourage you to join a table and enjoy a meal because we want to experience the gift of your presence. I’ll probably tell you about how Mondays are one of my favourite days. Together we can sit back and get a glimpse of The Dale at work.