Good on You

Rick Tobias and I did a lot of commiserating over drinks and a shared order of fries. We met in the same restaurant mostly, even at the same table- the one tucked in the corner to the right of the door. “Well this is a treat” he would say, as he settled into the window seat. It was common for me to lay out my current challenges, asking for any wisdom he might offer. Rick would always ask great questions, listen well, and pepper our time with stories. I would inevitably leave our time feeling poured into, with a plan to address the challenges, and almost always with a new joke. Rick would later follow-up to check in about how the plan was going. If I managed to take a step, however small, he would say, “Good on you.”

Rick died today after a long journey with cancer. I don’t know how to process his departure, though he was preparing for it and we understood was going to come all too soon. Because of Covid and his compromised immune system, we could no longer meet at our usual spot. Instead we began to meet outdoors, most often on my back deck or in his backyard under the carport. It became common for me to return home from work to find Dion and Rick at the end of the driveway, a party that I would happily crash. It is hard to believe I won’t see Rick sitting in a chair on the grass with a scotch in his hand anymore. All I can think is that I want to give him a hug and say, “Good on you.”

Good on you Rick for being a voice of justice. You dared to cry out into the wilderness and boldly challenged people to better understand poverty and love everyone whatever their circumstances. You clothed yourself with compassion and grace. 

Good on you Rick for, even in your retirement, intentionally calling our mutual friend and Dale community member multiple times a week. Your friendship meant so much to him. I called him today on your behalf. I had to tell him the news of your death and we wept bitterly together. He repeatedly said, “Rick was so good to me. Jesus, please tell Rick right now that Erinn and I will always love him”.  

Good on you Rick for being the Coordinator of Yonge Street Mission’s Evergreen Centre before becoming the Mission’s CEO. Many of the things I now know about fundraising I learned from you, as you were one of the best. I know leaving your role at YSM was not easy, but you did it well. Many can learn from your example of supporting your successor. 

Good on you Rick for being transparent about your own struggles and suffering. We could talk about the complexities of life and you never tried to fix it all with clichés. It felt safe to tell you about my mistakes because you were also willing to share your own. Thank you for all the reminders to try and keep our heads on straight, by seeking out community and accountability. 

Good on you Rick for always lighting up when you talked about Charis, your children and grandchildren. You loved your daughters by marriage as your own. Your family is what grounded you and made you beam with pride.

Good on you Rick for being such a good friend to so many people. You were proof that love grows when you share it. That you chose to be my close friend and mentor will always remain an honour. Thank you for the countless texts between visits. Your emoji game was strong, often using 10+ in a row. Your words of encouragement I will carry in my heart- you believed in me more than I often believe in myself.

You very rarely took a compliment Rick, always redirecting the conversation to something else. Humble is a word I would use to describe you. Part of me imagines you cringing at all the talk of you in the wake of your death. I hope though that you can somehow miraculously receive the enormous outpouring of love, hopefully with a beverage in hand and your own order of fries. 

Calm in Chaos: The Story of an Adventure

It was the end of what had been a magical trip. Just a little over a week prior, Cate and I somewhat spontaneously and with the help of good friends, flew ‘across the pond’ to London. We started at a B&B that I randomly found, which was nestled along a river and at the end of a picturesque tree lined laneway. We then moved to Chorleywood, a village considered part of the Greater London Urban Area. Those good friends I just mentioned found us a house to stay in while the owners were away, we just had to feed their cat. 

Cate and I mostly wandered the entirety of our trip. We walked and took transit. When we felt hungry, we would stop to eat. It was an unusually hot and sunny time in the UK, which led to Cate getting a terrible sunburn that she kept declaring, “wasn’t that bad”. We went to the Tate Modern and our favourite, the National Portrait Gallery. The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street turned out to be fantastic. We also got to eat the best Indian take-out with our friends in their beautiful back garden. 

With all of these and so many more memories stowed, we arrived at the airport to get home. I don’t like to be late, so we even got there a little early- more than three hours ahead for a 1 pm flight. We settled in, got a drink and positioned ourselves close to the screen that would tell us what gate we would be boarding at. For the first hour it said, “Gate pending”. I spoke with an attendant who assured us there was enough time to grab something to eat. We found sushi on a conveyor belt, which Cate loved, and found our way back to the screen. At this point there was a blank space where the Gate number should have been. This did not change, for hours. 

By mid-afternoon, well after our flight should have been in the air, every passenger was asked to go to a room in another area of the airport. We had to show our identification to get in. Once it was certain everyone was there, they told us the news: your flight has been cancelled. There are no alternative flights, so you are stuck here for at least the next three days. In order to get a voucher for a hotel and food you must line up in yet another area. If you leave, you forfeit any help from the airline. Cue general hysteria.

Cate and I felt so bad for some of our fellow passengers. One was going to miss their only sibling’s wedding. Another only brought enough of their medication for the trip and could be in serious trouble without it. Some people were extremely mad and expressed it by shouting. As we filed out of what was a very claustrophobic room, the tensions only increased. Then we proceeded to wait in line…for hours, with no access to food. I am not joking when I say that Cate was the calmest person in the room. She found a spot to sit, listened to music, drew pictures, and read while I tried to sort out our next moves on the phone and in prayer. It was midnight by the time Cate and I got to the front of the line. 

Fortunately, and rather miraculously, not only did we get one of the last hotel rooms available, they found us a flight for the next day. However, it was at a different airport and clear across town from the hotel. We would have to leave the hotel at 4 am. By this point the promise of even three hours of sleep in a bed felt like a win, so we took the offer and got in a cab. Having not eaten since before noon, we needed food. Unfortunately, the only thing open was a gas station outside of the hotel, so we bought instant ramen noodles, chocolate bars, and drinks (the dinner of champions). As we finally walked up to the hotel, we noticed that it was pulsating because of blaring music. Of course, it was prom night. A whole lot of sequins and teenage angst made my exhausted self burst into laughter. Cate immediately suggested we join the party.

We did get home the next day. It was a trip to remember, in so many ways. I tell this story now because I think it says a lot about who Cate is, and on this eve before Mother’s Day, I am thinking about her. There is an optimism to Cate that is striking. It’s not that she hasn’t experienced hard things- in fact, I would argue she is more acquainted with challenge than someone her age even should be. This has not made her hard though. She loves an adventure and is almost always up for a party. When a flight I was supposed to be on was recently cancelled, Cate’s text to me was this: “Oh alright! You should have a wild night in Dallas. It’ll be great”. That’s my girl. I am so grateful to be her mom. 

In a Photo Booth in London

Inhabiting a Neighbourhood by Sharing Space, Inside and Out

When The Dale gave up its own space a decade ago, one of the first questions people asked was: where are we going to go? A legit wondering. At the time, I didn’t yet know. Fortunately, the weather was improving and so I said, “if we have to, we’ll have drop-in at the park”. I also started to knock on the doors of buildings around the neighbourhood to see if there might be a willingness to open those doors to us. That was the beginning of inhabiting Parkdale in a new way.

People often ask me if we would now buy a building if we could. While I acknowledge there are definite cons to not having a space of our own, the pros outweigh them. Does that mean I am anti-building? No, absolutely not. The Dale relies on the buildings of our partners to do a lot of what we love. Also, I never want to belittle the importance of “place” for the many members of our community who do not have any to call their own. By not investing in the purchase of a building, The Dale can pour our resources very directly into what we do, while also supporting those who share property with us.

When The Dale spilled into the streets, we had the opportunity to learn from our core community about what it means to be transient. This was very important, especially for someone like me who, despite my proximity to people who are under-housed, have always had somewhere to lay my head. We also re-discovered the truth that the church is not a building. One Dale member would regularly remind me that, “we are living stones. Where we gather is less important than THAT we gather.”

I appreciate the pedagogy of my friend Jason McKinney around the power of property and the need to shift from having to holding. Jason’s church, Epiphany and St. Mark is the only building currently open to The Dale due to the pandemic (we trust our other partners will begin to re-open as the pandemic continues to settle). I see how he and his church are navigating away from the paradigm of property to the paradigm of commons, in other words they are helping create a community hub. The Dale is one of a number of organizations that reside at and co-create in 201 Cowan Avenue. I know the desire is to continue to grow in the way we all relate to and negotiate with land- land that was not ours to begin with. Together we are discovering how to deepen our responsibility and care for the ground we stand on.

Which is also why it is so important that The Dale’s largest presence is outdoors. When we were permanently housed the people had to come inside to find us. Now we go outside to find our people and it is where they know to look for us. It matters that we get rained and snowed on together, that we can share a snack in the park, that we can slow down and linger for chats anywhere along the street, that we can grow things in our community garden plot. We move from observation of the neighbourhood to participation in it.

Is this an easy way to operate? Not always. Is it messy? For sure. I can honestly say though that not having a building, which was definitely born out of crisis, has turned into one of our greatest gifts. Also true is that becoming a part of a larger community hub, both at Epiphany and St Mark and in other spaces around the neighbourhood, one of our greatest joys. We get to witness amazing things happening all over the place and grow in our awareness that love is present all around us: in and out of a building.

Snippets from Seattle

It’s very early in the morning. The sun is rising and starting to stream in the window of my hotel room. I am in Seattle, a city that is new to me. I was supposed to be on a flight home early today, but it got cancelled and shifted in such a way that while I will be on a plane this afternoon, it won’t get me to Toronto until tomorrow. And so, I have some time to begin unpacking what the last few days have been like.

A conference called Inhabit by the Parish Collective is what brought me here, a gathering of people that are exploring what it means to be church in the (your) neighbourhood, with an emphasis on the sharing of stories to build communal imagination. As one who strongly believes in the power of narrative, I was grateful for the opportunity to talk about The Dale. For me this always means centering the people of our community in the story and bringing to life what journeying together means for us, in all of its messiness and beauty. 

My emotions felt much like that throughout the conference: messy and somehow beautiful. I arrived into the space kind of giddy with expectation. Like so many, this was my first trip of this kind since before the pandemic and I felt really excited to be with people. I also arrived rather tender. There is a lot of big transition in my life that is still very fresh and will take time to navigate and settle. Entering any space as your full self is vulnerable. If I was going to embrace this experience as I hoped, it meant being willing to experience a real variety of things, including fun, seriousness, quick hello’s, deep conversation, questioning, laughter, early mornings, late nights, and tears. 

Anyone who knows me (or even sometimes who has just met me) will attest to how easily I cry. Though this is true, I was taken aback by the force and frequency of my tears while here. Sometimes it was a song or a story. Most often it was in conversation, either while a person attentively listened or shared back with me their own challenges. There was a relatively brief group exercise that we were invited to do which led to a disarming moment of connection. A lot of people offered me unprompted words of encouragement that were exactly what I needed and shockingly on point. I am prayerfully working through all of this. 

I find that when I am attentive to my sadness, it actually opens the door for great joy. Inhabit was that too. We got to walk the city and eat meals together, share cab rides and drink coffee. There was much stimulating conversation about faith, church, psychology, neighbourhood, equity, along with so many other things. I had a variety of encounters with people living outside, made friends with two little girls at a dance competition in the same hotel I was staying at who invited me to watch their routine (I sadly couldn’t), and met someone who goes to my cousin’s church- reminding me yet again that the world can actually be surprisingly small. 

It was amazing to be in Seattle with a group of Canadians who are my beloved friends and encouraging to connect with other folks from up north, expanding the circle. Our group knows how to party, and so we brought that energy too. I am also grateful to have been embraced by so many people from the US. This was a special few days. Though I am admittedly exhausted in this moment, the energy percolating is real. The processing has just begun.