Story Night: Lament and Hope

Since the early part of 2022 I have been meeting and listening to people working or supporting street related front-line work about their experience of the work generally, the impact of the pandemic, and what they identify as their biggest needs. The themes of these conversations have been consistent, with the most dominant being the accumulation of grief. Overwhelmingly, people have indicated a desire to gather in a space that honours the need to lament.

I am very excited to share about what has been born out of this feedback AND inspired by T.H.E. StreetLevel Network, a movement of people who believe in cooperatively addressing the issues that contribute to poverty- Story Night: Lament and Hope is a one-night event happening on Thursday, October 27th at 106 Trinity Street in downtown Toronto. This is an opportunity to come together, connect, share some refreshments, and listen to a program of music and stories from peers about our shared grief and experiences of hope. As author Cole Arthur Riley says, “Our hope can only be as deep as our lament”.

Story Night is a collaborative effort, one where we are invited to hold space for one another to feel what we need to feel. The intent is not to eradicate grief in a single night (as if that is even possible), but to honour and give expression to it. For some this will mean arriving first thing and being present for the duration of the night. For others it might mean slipping in for the program and out again once it ends. If you need someone to listen, there will be people available to do just that.

Please come! There is limited space, so get your ticket now (CLICK HERE). We do not want cost to prohibit anyone from attending Story Night. This is a pay-what-you-can event. If you are able to donate $2 to $100 (or anything in between), please choose the Donate Ticket option. If you are unable to make a donation, please choose the Free Ticket option. All money given will help to offset our costs. Any excess will be used for a future Story Night, as we intend this to be the beginning of many. One drink ticket and savoury snacks will be provided to all guests. Additional drinks will be available for purchase.

Can’t wait to see you there.

A Vacation Log: What I Have Learned About Rest

It is a familiar drive, one done enough times that I have stopped counting. When I pull up to the cabin, a wave of calm comes over me. This place is shared with me by generous and loyal friends. It is the first week of August, the very beginning of my holidays. As soon as I am unpacked, I grab a book and head to the dock. I look out at the water and notice the sound of it lapping along the shore. A dragonfly lands on my arm. I exhale and close my eyes. 

As peaceful as my surroundings are, it takes time for me to settle. Sometimes I feel anxious, I think because my body is remembering my typical schedule and somehow believes I am forgetting where I need to be- at a staff meeting or doing a meal-to-go or on a fundraising call. I also recognize that I am not nearly done processing the past year, one that has been packed with transition and a lot of grief. I break out into tears multiple times, not even sure what I am crying about specifically at any given moment. I decide to give myself space for all of it. 

As the week wears on, I can feel a shift toward rest. I am drawn to dancing in the kitchen while I am cooking, watching the hummingbirds for extended periods of time, reading an entire book in a day, kayaking the perimeter of the lake, and napping in the sun. The solitary time, while not always easy, is good. It points me toward what is going on in my heart and mind and urges me to raise it up in prayer. 

I leave the cabin and return to the city. Some days are quiet and slow. Other days are full of visits and outings. Dion and I drive to Niagara Falls for a day. I get on a plane to fly to Nova Scotia to visit friends and family. While there, I officiate my cousin’s wedding. It is a beautiful day, one that I can only think to describe as magical. My feet hurt (in the best way) from all the dancing. I return to crisis that is now fortunately retracting its head. Today I am saying a tearful goodbye to friends-like-family who are moving across the country for a year. I am feeling all the feels. 

Marva Dawn writes about the components of Sabbath being ceasing, resting, embracing and feasting. I know that settling into that kind of rhythm is what I desire. And it is surprisingly hard work. I am learning that to truly rest I must cease, whether that be for ½ a day or a week or a month. This August I have been provided the space to journey from ceasing all the way to feasting. There have been bumps and distractions along the way. I am learning that rest does not promise a cessation of challenge. I am also convinced that it equips me to keep doing what I love to do. 

I sit in my living room and gaze at the darkness of the night through the window. I am happy to be motivated to write for the first time this month. I can hear a cricket. I’m thinking about making some popcorn to eat. In just a few days I will be picking up my daughter, Cate and like-a-son, Declan at camp. They are both going to be living in the house with me this coming year. I exhale and close my eyes, just as I did on the dock at the cabin. I feel many things, but not anxious. Soon I will return to work.

I am ready.

A Year of Hard (and Good) Things

I was sitting in bed one morning last August when it felt like the earth shook. Moments later a text from a neighbour explained the cause and had me running to the back window. A massive tree on a lot next to ours had fallen. It completely filled our yard, coming just short of the house itself while destroying our one-day-old shed in the process. The tree also blocked Dion’s only entrance/exit to the house. I felt stunned, especially hearing that Dion’s Personal Support Worker had been where the tree now lay, less than a minute before.

Shortly before the tree incident, workers had begun to fix the siding on our house. It was a job that we weren’t all that excited about needing done, though understood was necessary. We thought it would be done in about a week, maybe two.  It was not- mostly because the crew seemingly disappeared. In the meantime, we got someone to clear enough of the tree that Dion could get out and decided to escape to a movie. On our way there I had two difficult conversations on the phone- one trying to negotiate the covering of repair costs to our yard, and one attempting to track down the siding company. As I slid into a seat in the dark theatre, I began to cry.

After the movie, while still in the lobby, Dion looked at me and said he was in trouble. I asked a few questions and understood very quickly that “being in trouble” meant “get me to the hospital”. I got him in the van and drove to the emergency room. Though we didn’t know it yet, Dion had a very serious infection, one that would soon mean he could not move his body at all. Infections are no one’s friend but become especially scary when a person has Multiple Sclerosis. That day, even though he eventually recovered from the infection, was the beginning of Dion’s journey to Long Term Care. 

I had what I believe was my first ever panic attack in the hospital that first week of Dion’s admission. It was nearly impossible to talk to the health care team and no easy solution was apparent. I remember repeating the only prayer I could muster, “Speed to save us. Haste to help us. Speed to save us. Haste to help us.” Stumbling out of the hospital, I saw my brother and sister-in law drive by. I hoped they saw me too. Moments later we were on the sidewalk together, me a crumpled mess. My sweet nephew handed me some Kleenex and a bottle of water with concern written all over his face. Together we came up with a next step. 

What followed was a series of next steps, which included things like strong advocacy, hard conversations, and relentless prayer. After a battle to get Dion into a rehab program, we got word that he was accepted and to be moved the same day that I needed to get Cate into her new apartment. At the end of that day, I got into the elevator of Cate’s building and began to weep. I cried all the way home to an empty house. I decided to sit in that sadness and not try to escape it. In the morning I took a deep breath, relieved I managed to get through that first night.

There have been hundreds of nights since that first one. As August nears, I can’t help but reflect on this past year. It has been about living into the tension of so many things, embracing change both chosen and not, and weathering a spectrum of emotions. I have watched Dion adjust to Long Term Care, grieved that MS took him there, and felt relief that he has the support he needs. It is not how we imagined life to look at this stage AND it is our reality. 

The tree got cleared. The siding on the house was eventually completed. Cate comes to the house with frequency, much to my delight (and actually will be living at home again in the fall until going to the UK in January). You might spot Dion speeding down the street in his wheelchair, as the lack of Covid restrictions means he can get out and about. My therapist continues to help me navigate all the change, as does Dion, Cate, my Dale team and a community of family and friends. Some days I am full of energy and ideas. Other days I am hit with waves of sorrow. Death has hit again and again. So has opportunity to listen to live music, eat really good food, receive and give gifts, and experience the embrace of loved ones. 

There is a painting by a friend named Gil that hangs above the piano in our living room. It is pictured below. I stared at it a lot last August, especially as I was pleading for help. I felt like I was/we were stuck in the most turbulent part of the water. I couldn’t imagine the calm. “Haste to help us. Speed to save us”. I can’t claim that the answers came quickly, or that they were the ones I wanted. A way forward was made possible. I do look at that picture now and reflect on how different things feel a year later. There is nothing easy about this road. And somehow, it is also mysteriously good. For that, I am grateful. 

Artist: Gil Clelland

Stories Matter: Tales from The Dale

We have not seen her in a while. She is striking, with an amazing sense of style. On this particular day we spot her hanging out with other people we know on some familiar steps in the neighbourhood. We immediately get chatting and hear about some challenges with her housing situation, a place just around the corner that she wants to show us. She is very transparent, and wants us (and you, the reader) to hear about her years in the sex trade and the toll it has taken. As Joanna and I listen, rain begins to pelt down. Before we depart, our friend hands us each a sunflower. Mine has just two yellow petals left. “I know they’re not beautiful, but it’s my heart. I honour you each with them.”

It’s his birthday. He feels surprised, while we feel grateful, that he has lived another year. His extended family is not in the city and want to remind him that he is loved, and so they send me a video of people sharing birthday wishes, peppered with photos of various eras of his life. The hope is that we will be able to find him so that he can view the video on my phone. Fortunately, it works out. He looks so pleased. I can’t shake the smile off my face.

We first met while he was living in an encampment in Parkdale. Always trying to beautify the land on which he lives, this friend erected a birdhouse close to his tent and excitedly shares about regular gray jay sightings. Over time his art fills the space, canvases leaning against every available surface. Now housed, I get audio messages on social media from him when too much time has elapsed between visits. We always greet each other with a hug.

Whenever the weather is good, we meet outside for our Sunday service. One day a squirrel is positioned in the tree right above me. I have no idea what people are looking at, only to learn there is certainty it is going to land on my head. Another day a woodpecker attaches itself to the shed just feet away from us. It sounds like a (very loud) percussion instrument and persists its pecking throughout our prayer time. At first some of us muffle laughter, until the comments start to fly, nearly derailing the service. Finally, a community member determinedly begins to pray, with as loud a voice as she can muster, “I just feel SO grateful because I have never seen a woodpecker in real life. How amazing.” The bird begins to quiet, almost as though it is giving thanks back.

Our plot in the community garden is taking shape. A neighbour and friend who is always willing to lend a hand decides to build an enclosure for it to keep out the animals that want to take one bite out of everything. One of our only strawberries gets eaten anyway. Our neighbour will not be deterred. Upon hearing the news of the strawberry, he marches over to fortify the walls. We know he keeps on eye on things when we can’t, which is especially nice given that our watering schedule (which is posted in our office) for Fridays and Saturdays says, “hope for the best”.

I think stories matter. I always try to log the events of a day either in my mind or, when I’m feeling especially organized, in a notebook. It is easy to remember the activities that divide up our week at The Dale: meals to go, outreach, fund-raising, etc., but it is all the moments that happen at and in-between these activities that breathe life into this community. I am so grateful to be a part of the web of stories that occur at The Dale. Life here is rich, and full of gifts like sunflowers, birds, garden plots, hugs, and beautiful people.

Cristian “Sanchez” Castillo

I have no recollection of when I met Sanchez. Not remembering where and when I met someone is rare for me. I imagine it says something about the way Sanchez inhabited the neighbourhood. He was one of those people who seemed to be everywhere all at once: in the parkette beside the Health Centre, on the bench outside of what used to be the Coffee Time, by the steps of 201 Cowan Avenue, and always, always with his dogs, Maggie and Chica. 

Sanchez came to Canada from Chile. You could always hear the Spanish in his voice. Sometimes there was a language barrier between us, but in my experience, Sanchez always dealt with this patiently. Usually it made him grin, look down, and slowly shake his head while quietly saying, “I really need to teach you Spanish”. To which I would reply, “PLEASE. Please teach me.” 

I could usually recognize Sanchez, even from a distance. He had a recognizable gait and silhouette. Sometime this year he also started wearing a helmet, to protect him from the falls that were increasingly a nemesis. He didn’t seem to mind, if anything claiming it as a cool new accessory. I loved that about Sanchez. Though there was a lot that he struggled with, he somehow seemed comfortable in his own skin. 

If Sanchez was having a bad day, there seemed to be one thing that would bring him to life: talking about his dogs, especially Maggie (who was actually mother to Chica). These dogs were not simply pets, but true companions to Sanchez. If you look at his Facebook profile, the vast majority of photos are of them. It became a huge concern that Maggie had what at first seemed a growth but proved to be a tumour growing on her belly. Because the surgery required was cost prohibitive, The Dale launched a GoFundMe on behalf of Sanchez.

Heartbreakingly, though the money arrived, the tumour proved too much and Maggie died. I will never forget receiving the news. Nor will I forget what became a necessary support to Sanchez: me, Joanna, and our friend Sam going to pick up Maggie to transport her to the vet. We gathered around Sanchez, with Chica hiding close by, to hold him in the grief and pray. The last time I saw Sanchez was the day I returned with Maggie’s ashes in an urn. 

Not long after this, Sanchez entered the hospital. Because of Covid restrictions, we could not visit him. However, he and I started to communicate on-line. I would occasionally receive video messages- usually short updates and always ending with how much he missed Maggie. I think it is fair to say that recovering from this loss felt unimaginable to Sanchez.

Sanchez was released from hospital, though we had yet to see him. Just yesterday we were alerted to his death through a flurry of calls and messages. I know that I am not the only one in a state of shock. To be candid, it doesn’t feel real. On behalf of The Dale, I want to extend our condolences to his family. I extend the same to those who counted Sanchez friend. There has been a lot of loss in our community over the last few years, something that Sanchez felt acutely. Saying goodbye to a friend is never easy. 

Sanchez- thank you for all of the chats over so many years. No matter how hard the day was, you would always stop and say, “let me first ask: how are you?” I will miss seeing you in the neighbourhood. We all will. I don’t know what you are experiencing now, but I really hope you are tossing Maggie a stick and feeling pride every time she brings it back. Estoy agradecido por ti. I hope I have that right. I mean to say, I am grateful for you. 

The Need to Be Held

Roberto is a new friend, one who stumbled upon The Dale just weeks ago. With his permission I share this moving piece that he wrote about his first experience. He read it aloud to a handful of us just yesterday. As indicated in this story, Roberto has experienced shunning and deep loss, and so it is no small deal that he is daring to join us on Sundays. We are grateful for his presence and perspective, and for the actions of the woman who enfolded not just me, but all of us that day.

By Roberto Angelis Lyra

I have a confession. Something happened this past Sunday which brought me to my knees.

Dreamt of a church called “Beautifully Broken” where both pastor and congregants melded as one. Among a handful of souls – all but 3 out of tune – the music moved with grace. Gently shaking me awake, an angel beckoned I come, whispering the word “Family” – six forgotten letters to this ancient heart.

Suffice, knowing many such dreams have been prophetic, I refused to awaken, lest one hearken the summons or dare stiff a messenger. Kept hitting snooze, knowing no services would be held after eleventh hour.

That still, small voice…

A glint in my eye, I challenged the Spirit, ‘No way in Hell there’s a service anywhere in Toronto on a long weekend!’ Google chuckled in response, revealing one but a stone’s throw from home.

And what is “Home” without the ones you love…….

It was high noon and I was dead. Damn it, the service was at 2! This meant I had 2 full hours to prepare for crossing Queen West, where gospel awaited a disgraced cowboy.

An old flickering film entered my mind. “Forgive me Father, for I’m About to Sin!” Me and church and steeple eyes are strange bedfellows indeed.

Upon approach, one encountered a hidden gem, as it were an armoire’s entrance to Narnia. Interior of which once might’ve been regal, seemed shattered as life itself.

I fit right in.

Ten, perhaps fifteen parishioners were scattered amongst benches used to warming considerably more bums. What’s one more, I thought.

“Women shall NOT speak in churches!” rang through conditioning as a female pastor arose. I groaned inwardly at how they which raised me were the very reason I disbelieved.

With genuine tone, she taught about ways of Jesus, partial to suffering and those of the fringe, befriending any outcast by neighbour… one rejected of kin.

My eyes began to sting.

She continued with words touching my core despite their simplicity, stirring matter lingering beyond the deep.

More she expressed, ever greater this proverbial lump at throat.

That was when her voice began to crack. Slow recognition how she too, was dealing with trauma far too great any bear alone…

Openly weeping, the preacher apologized for inability to continue, expressing anniversary of her mother’s passing…

Another thing one did not do in the cult, was interrupt “Holy” service.

As the preacher cried outright, an elderly woman stood, shifting aside her walker, offering, “Sweetheart, can I give you a hug..?”

It wasn’t a question. Grandma was on a mission!

The sweet septuagenarian rose from her pew, becoming surrogate mother to a grown, grieving child – unaware that for me, She Was the Complete Sermon!

God knows all I ever needed was to hold and be held by my mother… one who still shuns me in the name of Religion and all things untrue.

Lord, I pray our day will come…and I might see you…

Blessed is the Bookkeeper

We first met in the summer of 2014. Greg Kay, a Board member of The Dale at the time, brokered the connection between me and Marion Cameron. We met in a room at the back of 201 Cowan Avenue to discuss whether or not she would be willing to do the bookkeeping for The Dale. We had just suffered the death of our bookkeeper Diana Fong, and I felt unsure of how to move forward. 

Marion did agree to take on the books. I still remember handing over a heap of paper to her and sheepishly saying, “I’m sorry!!” to which she replied, “oh no, this is FUN!” We had definitely found the right person. Marion took that mountain and turned it into excellent records, something she has been doing ever since and all on a volunteer basis.

I deeply value Marion: her work ethic, attention to detail, patience, humour, and friendship. I love the ways we have gotten to know one another over the years. Marion likes cappuccino, the Toronto Blue Jays, and a good glass of wine. She always asks me how I am and gives very good hugs. I know it isn’t much, but I have taken to putting some form of chocolate in the monthly envelope of documents for her because I am so grateful. 

Marion gave me a lot of warning that she would need to step away from her role at The Dale this year. From the beginning she indicated she wanted to give us seven years of very good books, all audited. When she delivered everything to our auditor for 2021, she hit that magic number. Marion has indeed given us what she promised: books that are transparent and meticulously done. Beyond that though, she gave us the gift of herself. 

I have known in my gut that part of honouring Marion’s hard work is to find a replacement for her in the right time frame. I am thrilled to say this has happened. The transition from Marion to another person has begun. Just last week I sat with them, huddled around two computers, to look at the systems Marion has created and is now passing on. A few times I sat back and thought to myself, “blessed are the bookkeepers”. What they do with the piles of information I create is remarkable. 

Marion: thank you for everything you have done for The Dale. It has not gone unnoticed and will be remembered by me, the rest of the staff, and the Board. I will miss our monthly exchanges. I look forward though to still taking you out for coffee and sharing stories about our lives. I hope and pray that this next chapter of retirement for you is full of rest, adventure and lots of chasing those Blue Jays. 

What Do You Want?

I am not going to lie. It has been a heavy time, one marked with significant loss and grief. And so, it stung when I read the lectionary passage for the week (the lectionary is a pre-selected group of Bible passages for the year, a resource that many people and churches use). I think my exact thought was, “are you kidding me?” John 5:1-9-The setting is Jerusalem, near a pool by the Sheep’s Gate. In the five porticoes by the pool, people who are chronically sick and disabled lie waiting. Rumour has it that an angel visits the pool at random times, stirs up the water, and gives it healing properties. The first person to step into the pool after the angel disturbs it, receives healing. Jesus visits this place, finds a man lying by the pool who has been sick for thirty-eight years, and approaches him with a question, no introduction or small talk first: “Do you want to be made well?”

If it were me, and I had been sick for almost four decades, I think I would look at the stranger and likely say, “seriously?”, possibly feeling like he was inferring I didn’t want to be well enough. I notice that the man doesn’t answer the question with “yes.” Even after thirty-eight years of serious suffering, he doesn’t say yes! Instead, he explains “I have no one to put me into the pool” and describes the unfairness at work, “While I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  He avoids answering the question Jesus actually asks, which makes me think this isn’t simply a question about the man’s circumstances, but a question that goes even deeper, “What do you want?”

For me, the question resonates because I am moved by the very idea that God cares about what I want, is curious about my desires and invites me to recognize and articulate them. If I’m willing to sit with this story, maybe I can come to believe that Jesus actually wants me to be made well, to deliver me from my own baggage and fear. He invites me to want and to answer, “YES”.

As I shared all of this with the people of The Dale, I began to weep. I wept because there are so many areas of life where I am desperate for healing, both for myself and others. I wept because death is a thing. I wept because three people have died in the last two weeks and on this day five years ago, I lost my mother. I wept because of who I was speaking to- friends who know what it is to suffer and long for relief. One person responded to my tears by asking, “do you want a hug?” As she enfolded me, she patted my back and said, “this hug is from your mom”. 

What happens after Jesus asks the question? He says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” and the man does exactly that. What?! There is no indication in the story that the man has any idea who Jesus is, nor does he ever specifically ask for healing. What he really wanted was for someone to put him in the pool, and yet Jesus has other plans. Honestly, I don’t get it. I want to scream, “do more of this. NOW!”.

What I want to take away from this story is that it is possible for things to be made new and well, even if it doesn’t look or happen the way I expect. I think the desire to heal is intrinsic to the character of Jesus. According to this story, it didn’t even depend on the actions of the man by the pool. “Do you want to be made well?” is a question that will always be asked, because the desire is for our wholeness, freedom, and thriving. I don’t know if I always believe that to be true, or that I can even articulate the deep longing I have for all of those things. This world is messed up and I continue to sag under the weight of seemingly unanswered prayers. I feel challenged though to keep considering the question posed by Jesus. I wonder if naming what I really want is a place where the work of healing can begin.

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