One Year Later: From Despair to Hope

On January 25th of 2018 I called an ambulance for Dion, gently woke up Cate to tell her, got dressed, and followed the emergency vehicle on foot through the snow to the hospital. Life since has been very different for the Oxford family.

A year later I am mindful of the spectrum of emotions and experiences we have gone through. Those early days were very dark. Dion’s health had deteriorated to a shocking degree, leaving him exhausted, depressed and wondering what could possibly be next. I felt overwhelmed, fearful, and very sad. There were many difficult conversations with health care professionals, social workers, family, and friends. The future felt uncertain.

Along the way we decided that renovating our house was the only obvious thing ahead. For us, it felt right. In the sea of unknowns, it was good to launch a practical project.

As of today, the renovations have come a long way. It’s fair to say they are nearing completion. The drywall is up, and the trim is painted. The tiles have been installed in the barrier-free bathroom (no fixtures yet). There is a hole in the floor awaiting the lift. I know that for Dion this last push is excruciating. It’s almost harder to have the end in sight, but still out of reach.

Every time I step into the basement, I am reminded of the host of people who have helped bring this project to fruition. My contractor/brother has been amazing. He, along with such a variety of tradespeople, have brought things to life. I need to do a count of how many people have contributed financially- it’s humbling.

In the course of a year it is not just our house that looks different. Admittedly, there are still moments of darkness. They are fewer though. Since those early days, Dion has adjusted to a new normal in terms of his health. I am no longer scared of him falling and not being able to pick him up. We are hopeful that he will continue to receive the kind of health care that honours his needs and equips both him and our family with the most independence.

Though we are thinking a lot about Dion’s 365+ days away from home, we are also thinking about 21 years of marriage as of January 24th. So many things intertwined. We still don’t know what the future will look like, but who does? Instead, we are endeavouring to live as much in the moment as possible, celebrating the good, lamenting the hard and giving thanks along the way.

A Belt Buckle, A Glass Boot, and Other Gifts: On Becoming a Gracious Receiver

I recently got to the work of sorting and organizing the room which has become a catch-all during the house renovation. As I went through the boxes of things I have carefully stored out of harm’s way, I was greeted by a variety of gifts from my friends at The Dale.

Will gave me a belt buckle with an eagle on it.

Mike wrote, “the light will always overcome the darkness” on a scrap piece of cardboard for me.

John gave me a glass bottle shaped like a boot, containing raspberry cordial. However seemingly random, I know to him it was the most special thing he could offer.

James painted a portrait of me and Joanna.

Marlene, a lover of jewellery, found me a glass bead bracelet- blue, because it’s “your favourite colour”.

Though I don’t smoke, Steve gave me a cigarette. He explained that in his culture, tobacco is considered sacred. Given that, and the fact it was his only one, I felt moved by his generosity.

Rita made both me and Cate amazing arrangements of artificial flowers.

Doug has made me countless recordings of jam sessions, church services and Open Stages at The Dale.

Peter fashioned a lion and a lamb out of clay that sits on my bookshelf.

Knowing how I love birds, Shannon found me a little porcelain one.

The list goes on and on. These gifts are one very tangible example of how I get to receive from this community.

It is good to both give and receive. We talk about this a lot at The Dale. Of course, a gift doesn’t have to look like any of the items I’ve just described: it could be a hug, an offer to listen, a kind word, a cup of coffee, or some other act of service, and that’s just the beginning.

There is something important about honouring the offering of another. I love that in the context of relationship we can begin to articulate what we might need (or not). AND, I think there is a time to humbly receive something that took sacrifice to give. With that in mind, I hope that I can be as gracious a receiver as my friends are givers.

The Importance of Space

The Dale has no walls of its own, unless you count the tiny post office box we rent. This does not mean we place a low value on buildings. Quite the contrary. We rely on the hospitality of buildings throughout Parkdale and even one outside of its borders to host our gatherings and do administrative work. We also understand that connecting well with our community means being outside, noticing people in coffee shops, and visiting those who are bound to home or hospital. We are nomads with a schedule.

The challenge in this is creating spaces that. though they are not our own, feel like The Dale. Seemingly little things help: using our own plates, mugs and cutlery on Mondays; placing the Scrabble board on the table at the Thrift Store; setting the communion table with our stole, a candle holder donated by a community member, a brass plate for the bread, and our cups. People notice if these items are missing.

These material contents (however few and important they might be), are not what primarily what make our spaces home-like. I think the transition to calling something home happens when we start to think of a space as “ours”. The Dale is its people. However chaotic or calm our spaces might be, we try to inhabit them in a way that fosters a sense of peace, safety, and respect.

Making the decision to give notice and spill into the street in 2012 was never made lightly. I recall how important it was for the community to grieve the loss of our space, especially considering that many people had no other place to call home. What it gave rise to is the recognition that we are not limited to our walls.

Now we gently live in the tension of needing buildings and being without one of our own. This has been our reality for nearly six years. As we face a new year, I want to acknowledge the importance of space, express gratitude for all of our building partners and the neighbourhood of Parkdale and honour our community members who make The Dale (whatever space we might be in) feel like home.