I met with a long-time friend this morning at a coffee shop. The sun was already warm at 10 am, so we sat outside with our drinks. We discussed a variety of things, though The Dale was central to our conversation. As I described what we’re up to in Parkdale, this friend commented on how “stable” it seems we now are. I ingested that word and realized that she is, in many ways, right.
Now I would argue that stable is a relative word. Stable in our context means that we have settled into being a community without our own walls and found a rhythm to our nomadic existence; that though we have a small budget and rely on outside sources for our financial sustainability, we have what we need; that by choosing to wear our brokenness very close to the surface, we are discovering healing, beauty and hope. At first glance The Dale probably does not seem stable in the way the world expects or requires, but gaze a little longer and you might join us in celebrating our own brand of stability.
The Dale has come a long way. This month we welcomed our third staff member, a reality that five years ago seemed a distant dream at best. With growth comes transition, and transition, however right, is full of challenge. Meagan has written about that here, about how everything and everyone is new and different, about how disconcerting and unstable it is being in a foreign environment. And yet she chooses to say that things are good and promise to be good.
I think this is at the heart of what makes The Dale stable. It’s not that everything is easy and neat, in fact it is often the opposite: things can be decidedly difficult and very messy. But each day we simultaneously choose to see good and hold onto the promise of good. While our locations might shift, our funding change, and our staff grow, our vision is clear: we endeavour to create safe and welcoming spaces in which all people (including me) are encouraged to participate fully, to the best of their abilities and together journey toward a deeper experience of life.
As my friend and I walked away from the coffee shop, I thought about where The Dale has been, where it is now, and where it is going. Stable, at least in our context, certainly does not mean static. This is good. And I am very grateful.
I showed up to our Wednesday Drop-In without the M&M’s that I’d promised a community member. The day before he had ridden up behind me and Joanna on Queen Street and excitedly told us that he would like candy in his pancakes the next day. Not only that, but he’d like to make them for everyone. We heard a bit about his night outside, the impending day and then, as he whisked off, a very loud, “ERINN, REMEMBER THE BOWL SIZE PACKAGE OF M&M’s”.
I remembered, but was unsuccessful at locating them in the store I stopped at. When I arrived at the drop-in he was waiting outside and excitedly grabbed the bag of groceries out of my hand only to discover there were no M&M’s. His face dropped. I felt bad. We decided together to do a quick run to a convenience store around the corner, during which we met multiple Dale folks. They all got an earful about how awesome the pancakes were going to be that day. Most smirked and good-naturedly wondered if breakfast would be successful.
The store we ended up at didn’t have M&M’s either (there must be a shortage or something), so my friend picked out two Snickers bars and a Coffee Crisp. I declined a plastic bag, but he insisted on one so that “we wouldn’t drop them and disappoint everyone wanting chocolate in their pancakes”. On the walk back I heard all about the two things he liked to cook, one being toast. I gently asked if he was truly up for overseeing the food, which I was assured he was.
Joanna wisely suggested that we take a poll of who would like plain vs. fancy pancakes. It turned out about half the room was excited about the extra shot of sugar. Less than an hour later our friend had chopped up the chocolate bars, produced a heap of pancakes and helped serve. People loved them and he looked thrilled.
There are few places where this person would be allowed to participate in this way. He tells me this all the time. Some might wonder if we should allow it, to which I wonder, how could we not? The Dale is meant to be a place where people are invited to both give and receive. This friend identified what he wanted to give, asked for help in doing it, received supervision and left the building standing taller than when he arrived. I love these moments. Makes me want to track down a bowl sized bag of M&M’s for next time.
Yesterday, approximately a week after he entered hospital due to a stroke, our friend Mark Roberts died. This came as a big surprise, for while we expected he had a long road of recovery ahead, we believed he was stable.
Mark was a tall, broad shouldered man which earned him the moniker “Big Mark”. He loved to talk (and talk and talk). We often teased him about how few dishes he actually got done at our Monday Drop-In because he was too busy chatting, pausing only briefly to say, “okay, anyway…” before launching in again. One key topic of conversation for Mark was music. He would often quiz me about the music of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, while commenting on current artists being played on the radio. He played the guitar and sang with gusto.
Mark had a spirit of generosity. Though he had very little, Mark was quick to share. He would regularly come to our Thrift Store Drop-In to distribute granola bars and pudding cups and whatever else he had gathered. He once proudly gave me a box of powdered lemon filling to make a lemon meringue pie, requiring only that I tell him about the result and how much Cate enjoyed it- he was a big fan of my daughter.
I’m sad that Mark will not be joining us at The Dale’s annual fall retreat up north. He intended to come last year, but couldn’t bear to leave his beloved cats behind. After hearing about all the fun we had, Mark promised that this time he would find somebody to care for his feline friends. He couldn’t wait to play his guitar around the campfire. I know that to honour him we’ll sing some of his favourites this September.
When Mark arrived at the hospital this past week he didn’t have any ID and couldn’t communicate. Joanna and I were able to see him a couple of times and were working with the hospital to locate family. Just yesterday I followed what felt like a flimsy lead, only to discover how to connect with Mark’s mother. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I’d found her and so relieved that she could speak with Mark’s medical team. It was with shock and dismay that I got a message from her that afternoon: Mark was gone. My heartfelt sympathies go out to her and the rest of Mark’s family. She asked me to share this news.
Mark was very much a part of The Dale community. I can’t imagine not having him in the kitchen on a Monday, or hearing him strum a guitar, or seeing him stroll down Queen Street. I know many, many people will miss him. And I am one of them.
Rest well friend.