Falling Slowly

It might seem strange but hearing about the upcoming Oscars always triggers thoughts about my dad. Our annual Oscar party was the last time I ever saw him, though we had a short conversation on the phone just days later. He called to see who won the pool, having left before the show was done. I announced that he had, to which he gave a cheer. He was pleased to have bragging rights. 

That Oscar party was especially relaxed. We gathered for dinner first, before retiring to the basement to watch the show. I remember folding laundry, something that I would not normally have done during a party, except that we were all family and it felt okay that night. My dad commented on how I used to like watching him do laundry, to which I replied, “I learned the art of folding from you”. He was meticulous about it. 

For some reason I have two vivid memories of the Oscar broadcast that night: Tilda Swinton’s speech, which my dad especially liked, and the performance of Falling Slowly, the song that went on to win Best Song. Not long after, my dad and stepmother left, leaving my sister-in-law Amanda and I to check their ballots. We noticed that dad had signed his paper “GB”, the name that Cate called him. We laughed, noting how much he liked his role as grandfather. 

A week later my dad was suddenly and shockingly gone. My brother Logan told me the news. I can remember his exact words and the feeling it produced in my body. As I drove to be with everyone, Falling Slowly came on; “Take this sinking boat and point it home, we’ve still got time. Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice, you’ll make it now. Falling slowly, eyes that know me. Falling slowly, sing your melody, I’ll sing it loud.” I desperately wanted there to still be time.

That was in 2008. Since then, I have reflected a lot on life with my dad. His departure felt larger than life, just like he always did. He was an interior designer with an incredible eye, an avid golfer who gave me my first set of clubs, a chef with a flair for everything gourmet, and a perfectionist when it came to wrapping presents, maintaining a vehicle, and yes, laundry. When he found a restaurant he liked, he would be sure to get to know those running it. To this day, if I go to Bar Mercurio on Bloor Street, people from the kitchen will come to talk to Barry Grant’s daughter. Dad was also excellent at building and maintaining friendships with people like his mechanic and butcher. Because of his influence, I have gone to the same hairdresser and mechanic for nearly twenty years, both of whom I count friends. 

On March 3rd, my dad will have been gone for fourteen years. That number takes my breath away. It is the same age as my nephew, who was born just months after his GB’s death. I know my dad would have loved getting to know his now four grandchildren. I suspect he would be pleased that they ask questions about GB, and how Cate delights in liking similar things to him. I am grateful that so many of my memories, including the ones described here, remain as fresh as they do. I’m glad to raise my hopeful voice in honour of him. I miss you dad. 

The Dale Annual Report 2021

I don’t know if any of us could have imagined the COVID-19 pandemic wearing on throughout the entirety of 2021. At The Dale we have continued our re-vamped programming that began in 2020, which keeps us primarily outdoors. Whether outside or in, our commitment and love for the community has never wavered, keeping us on the front-line. We are grateful to everyone who has partnered with The Dale to help us create awareness, foster friendships, encourage mutual support, and nurture faith, all while practicing presence in the community.

In 2022, The Dale will have existed without our own walls for ten years. During this decade, we have found profound strength in partnership. Whatever your involvement with The Dale, whether it be as an individual, community organization, church, business, or funder, we are thankful for you. We are better together! 

The Gift of Ashmeed

I met Ashmeed, more simply Ash, in my earliest Parkdale days. If I wanted to connect with him, all I usually needed to do was go out to the steps of the church where PNC (now The Dale) was housed. If not there, he wasn’t far- maybe by the big globe outside the library, or around the corner on Queen Street. We had a lot of conversations sitting on a bench in the bus shelter. It was often about Scripture and how he was writing down long passages in a notebook stashed in his pocket, family, or the regret and pain that was pushed down and masked by other things. Ash would attentively listen to me too, quietly nodding and affirming my feelings. 

I have a lot of memories with Ash. One particularly poignant one happened on a Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday, when we remember the way Jesus ate the last supper with his friends and washed their feet). We were gathered with another community for a traditional Seder supper, which includes having an empty chair at the table in honour of the prophet Elijah. Ash entered the room, grief-stricken and worked up. He sat in the empty chair and poured out his anguish over the reality of poverty. “You all don’t know what it is like”. And he was right. I remain convinced that Ash came as a prophet of sorts that night. He was one crying in the wilderness. 

Years ago, though he had arrived in Canada at a tender age with his beloved brother, Ash was being threatened with deportation. Ash asked me to write him letters and vouch for him as a person. I went to the hearing in order to stand with him in solidarity, along with a couple of his family members and another friend. I was so proud of Ash that day- the way he managed through intense scrutiny, being asked questions that no one should need to answer in front of strangers. There was nothing easy about that experience, though it miraculously ended with Ash being allowed to stay. 

I think getting through that storm helped launch Ash into a new stage of life. Over the last number of years he found a different kind of stability. It was beautiful and exciting to participate in. Already an artist, Ash began frequently painting again. He became a regular at our Sunday thing, almost always requesting #41 in our songbook: Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Since Covid he has been the face greeting and giving food to the community at our meals-to-go. Not long ago we were sitting together when he looked at me and said, “we are together whenever it counts, both good and bad.” Through tears, I agreed. Together on the journey.

Just this past summer Ash moved into his own apartment, the first time living independently in years. A group of us got to help him move in, an honour that I will never forget. We had a picnic of coffee and pastries before picking up all his belongings in two vehicles- mine, and Morrison, The Dale van. Ash was so excited and nervous. He couldn’t shake his smile. Even though his place was not in Parkdale, he made sure to be consistently around.

In the early hours of this morning, we received word that Ash died this weekend. At first it did not feel real and I just sat in stunned silence. I looked at the picture included here, one I took just this past Thursday. It wasn’t until calling the Dale team with the news that the tears began to pour. I imagine the sense of disbelief will return periodically, as it usually does. The weight of this loss is heavy. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Ash’s family and friends who knew him best. I am so sorry. 

Ash. I don’t even know where to start. Thank you for letting me in all those years ago. I will always be grateful for our friendship, and that you were willing to count me also as pastor. Our Mondays and Thursdays will not be the same without you. If you weren’t available for a meal-to-go we would always say, “who wants to Ash today?” It was your role and you did it so well. I will miss praying together on the street, laughing, working through the hard stuff, and trusting that when we parted it wasn’t a goodbye, but a see you later. I do believe that last part is mysteriously still true. I trust this isn’t goodbye. I will keep singing #41.

When you’re down and out

When you’re on the street

When evening falls so hard

I will comfort you

I’ll take your part

Oh, when darkness comes

And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind. 

Ashmeed Ahamad, 1963 – 2022

A Story: From Scarcity to Abundance

It was my first drop-in day in my new role at what was to become The Dale. I was en route when my phone rang. I glanced down and saw the display: RBC (Royal Bank of Canada). I cringed and decided I should pull over to answer it, knowing that it was likely related to work and our current financial crisis. I was right. I listened as the person on the other end explained that our account was in overdraft, and was I aware? As calmly as I could, I explained that I was just back after a time away, I was now the appropriate person to talk to, and could I have one hour to see if I could sort things out? The reply was yes. 

I hung up, laid my head back and said out loud, is my first day back my last? I took a few deep breaths in and then out. I looked in the back seat of my vehicle at the groceries I had just purchased with my own money for our meal that day. I knew there were people waiting for me and that the food needed to be eaten, and so I thought, whatever might happen tomorrow, TODAY we are going to have drop-in. Give us this day our daily bread. 

Over the next hour two things happened. First, I spoke with a long-time friend and supporter who simply asked, what do you need in order to get through the next three months? I gulped and gave the accurate number. Without skipping a beat, they said: let me e-transfer it. I began to cry to which they matter-of-factly said, “no need to cry, this is something I can do.” Second, I uncovered a bank error, one that took us just into the black. 

When I think about this day, I can still picture the way the light was hitting the lake as I took the call from the bank. I remember the anxiety in the pit of my stomach that turned into a fierce determination to have drop-in. There was a keen sense of needing to live into the now and not yet, a strange and mysterious tension. I wanted to be in the moment, address the issues, and do whatever I could to work for and imagine a future. None of it was easy. All of it was covered in grace. 

I do not take for granted the way scarcity turned to abundance that day. It was provision for all of us, ensuring that our community might continue, at least for the next few months. So many years later, I remain grateful for the experience and how it has informed the way we respond and move through crises (of which there are many). Life didn’t stop being messy that day. It did strengthen some muscles in me though, including being present to what is and identifying the tasks in front of me to do, while igniting my imagination for things to come. 

Not Just a Pet, A Companion

Not that long ago The Dale began to raise money for our long-time friend Sanchez and his beloved dog, Maggie. Maggie had a growth on her belly that required surgery, except the cost was prohibitive. Joanna launched a Go Fund Me on our behalf, and slowly but surely, the money came in. We felt so excited about being able to come alongside Sanchez and Maggie in this way. Many phone conversations and a couple of appointments in, the way forward became less clear, though we all remained committed to the process.

Today we received the difficult news that Maggie died peacefully in her sleep, while lying in bed. Having not dealt with this kind of thing before, both Joanna and I made calls to see what to do. This culminated with us, along with our dear friend Sam, picking up Maggie to take her to the appropriate place. We first gathered around Sanchez in order to pray: “For God, you love all things that exist- every creature an object of your love. Thank you for Maggie, and for all that she meant to Sanchez. Surround him as he grieves. Thank you for the joy that Maggie brought so many…”. And then, as tenderly as possible, we wrapped Maggie in a blanket and took her away.

It is with the permission of Sanchez that I share this story. Maggie was a very well known and loved dog in the neighbourhood and we know that the news is spreading fast. Wherever Sanchez was, so followed Maggie (and Chica, Maggie’s own pup). Plus, there were so many people that contributed to the GoFundMe. In that regard, we will be reaching out soon.

As Sanchez said today, Maggie was not just his pet, she was his companion. This is a palpable loss. We feel your pain right now my friend. The Dale loves you Sanchez, and we certainly loved Maggie. You are not alone in this.

Maggie & Chica