How Both a Little and Big Hello Matter

One of the greatest gifts my mom gave me was her ability to be fully present. She had a way of actively listening and engaging in conversation that always made the time with her go too fast. I think this was only magnified when she was forced to move into hospital. Though hindered by fatigue, mom wanted to maximize her time with people. I know it was difficult when her health issues prevented her from visiting. Though she had a large capacity to manage a lot of alone time, mom thrived when with family and friends.

I miss my mom. I live around the corner from the hospital she called home. Every single time I go by it I look up at the window that was hers. Part of the beauty of living in such close proximity was that it was easy to pop over for a long OR short visit. We sometimes joked that a side benefit of her situation was that I always knew where she was. I often replay the journey to her room in my head: through the front doors, straight to the back elevators, up to the fifth floor and room 516, where I would announce my arrival in the doorway with a “hello, it’s me!” to which she would always say, “hello my sweetie”.

My mom loved to ask questions about everything that was going on in my life. I know that she kept a running note of things to pray about on her iPad. We laughed a lot. I would listen to all of her news (she was a great storyteller), sometimes as she directed me to do things around her room: dust, reposition a painting, open mail, tidy up one of her ‘meaningful piles’. I routinely cut her bangs, and with much trepidation occasionally gave her a full haircut.

My mom was gracious even when I failed to visit because life got too busy. I was never made to feel guilty. Instead, she would gently issue another invitation to come and explain that she missed me. I also knew that if mom was feeling especially lonely and willing to articulate it, I needed to take notice and get to her side, which in truth, I always wished I would have done before she even had to say it.

For my mom it was important that I show up even for just five minutes to have, as my nephew Harrison likes to call it, a “little hello”. No matter what length of time we had my mom would say she felt energized and I would leave feeling filled up. It was a great reminder to me that making time, even by setting aside little bits of it, contributed to both of us feeling valued and loved.

As I grieve and celebrate my mom, I want to remember the many lessons she taught me: lessons about the gift of presence, active listening, good storytelling, being honest about your needs, and how to infuse it all with grace.

Cate with my mom, her Gran. They loved being together.

The Consecration of a Person’s Poverty

She’s small in stature, with piercing eyes and wavy hair that, as she describes it, has a mind of its own. It is not uncommon to see her roaming around Parkdale, usually looking for help in the form of money or cigarettes. Some days are harder for her than others. The desperation that is likely always present internally, comes leaking out and manifests itself in wildly frantic behaviour. On a recent sunny Thursday though she was lucid and simply looking for a coffee.

We have recently started blocking every Thursday morning for outreach, which for us means we walk around the neighbourhood and connect with people along the way. Joanna, Meagan and I are enjoying being outside and are feeling thankful that Kirti, a case worker/counsellor from Parkdale Community Health Centre is joining us each week. Sometimes we chat with community members of The Dale, sometimes we meet new people, sometimes we intervene in difficult situations, sometimes we strategize with Kirti about how to help someone find housing or treatment or whatever support they might need, and sometimes, in the case of our friend I have just described, we provide a coffee.

With the drink in hand, she settled onto a small ledge jutting out from a storefront and said, “Do you think God sees everything I go through? Do you think God sees me? I mean, look at what I have gone through. Does God see ME?” Meeting her gaze, I fought back tears and said, “I believe God does.” She went on to describe much of her life: how it began with a desire to be a nurse, but spiralled out due to multiple traumatic experiences, many of which are too difficult to describe here. Poverty, a mental health diagnosis, and the loss of a child to the system have all contributed to her pain.

“People don’t see me you know. Or when they do they only see my dirty fingernails and messy hair. They can’t see past it. I’m not loveable in their eyes. But we are so much more than our outsides you know.” Yes, I told her, you are so right. I found myself thinking of the Beatitudes as I continued to listen. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount says things like, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn. What does that mean for this friend?

The origin of the word ‘bless’ meant to consecrate and speak well of, most often used toward God. Viewed through this lens, the Beatitudes reveal how God consecrates things like our poverty and grief. God holds up and makes blessed those who are poor and broken, revealing them as precious and having connection to Him. Similarly, when we seek peace, when we show mercy, when we mourn and when we are meek, God is connected to us. In this way there is not an absence of God in life’s greatest challenges.

This woman has already endured more than many people will in a lifetime. I don’t understand the disproportionate distribution of challenge. And yet, when I look in her eyes and listen to her story, I am struck by the wisdom she carries. While sipping on her coffee, she spoke significant truth about the condition of humankind, love, and grace. It became time for Joanna, Meagan, Kirti, and I to move on, but before we did I thanked her for being so open and said, “you are loved”. To which she replied, “I think God does see me. I even think God views me as special.”