I met with a long-time friend this morning at a coffee shop. The sun was already warm at 10 am, so we sat outside with our drinks. We discussed a variety of things, though The Dale was central to our conversation. As I described what we’re up to in Parkdale, this friend commented on how “stable” it seems we now are. I ingested that word and realized that she is, in many ways, right.
Now I would argue that stable is a relative word. Stable in our context means that we have settled into being a community without our own walls and found a rhythm to our nomadic existence; that though we have a small budget and rely on outside sources for our financial sustainability, we have what we need; that by choosing to wear our brokenness very close to the surface, we are discovering healing, beauty and hope. At first glance The Dale probably does not seem stable in the way the world expects or requires, but gaze a little longer and you might join us in celebrating our own brand of stability.
The Dale has come a long way. This month we welcomed our third staff member, a reality that five years ago seemed a distant dream at best. With growth comes transition, and transition, however right, is full of challenge. Meagan has written about that here, about how everything and everyone is new and different, about how disconcerting and unstable it is being in a foreign environment. And yet she chooses to say that things are good and promise to be good.
I think this is at the heart of what makes The Dale stable. It’s not that everything is easy and neat, in fact it is often the opposite: things can be decidedly difficult and very messy. But each day we simultaneously choose to see good and hold onto the promise of good. While our locations might shift, our funding change, and our staff grow, our vision is clear: we endeavour to create safe and welcoming spaces in which all people (including me) are encouraged to participate fully, to the best of their abilities and together journey toward a deeper experience of life.
As my friend and I walked away from the coffee shop, I thought about where The Dale has been, where it is now, and where it is going. Stable, at least in our context, certainly does not mean static. This is good. And I am very grateful.
I need a car.
There, I said it.
My husband Dion lives with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that is robbing him of his mobility. Last fall Dion learned how to drive with hand controls and has a license that requires he use them. Our car is fitted with them now, and so Dion needs to use it as his primary means of getting around. With his new role at work, he no longer needs to simply get to The Gateway. Instead, Dion needs to be going places at exactly the same times I do. I never thought I would potentially be a part of a two car family. In some ways I struggle with even having a single vehicle: I think about the impact on the environment; I consider that I live in a city with public transportation; I know that for most people a car will never be an option. These are all good reasons to eschew driving a car, except…
The challenge for me is that I found ways to make my life work in large part because I had the use of our car. Our vehicle is used to ensure that things happen at The Dale. The Dale might not have walls of our own, but we do have my trunk. I transport groceries for our drop-ins, at various times store art supplies and outreach items like socks and hats, and move sound equipment for our Open Stages. We rely on the car to help our community friends move. We go on hospital, jail and court visits. We take people to appointments. Sometimes it is our office. And that’s all in the course of just one week.
Having a car also has a profound impact on my effort to keep life at The Dale in balance with life at home. I am able to finish my time in Parkdale and get home in time for Cate (which is a tight squeeze). I can drive a carload of kids to rehearsals for the choir that Cate has been in since the age of six. Our family participates in a “Dinner Shuffle” each Wednesday that is always followed by me heading off to do street outreach during the remainder of the evening. My list could go on and on. Though Dion will be able to get around, it will not afford him the energy to take on the grocery shopping, etc. Fatigue is a difficult symptom of MS.
Sharing this makes me feel very vulnerable. I know that life will go on if we don’t get another car. I also know life will be decidedly different for The Dale and the Oxford house without one. Quite honestly, I’m scared about all of this. A Dale community member has decided to actively pray for a solution. I know that my mother is doing the same. I would like to invite you all to help me/us see what the possibilities might be in all of this. Do you know a person wishing to sell a vehicle for a decent price? Do you wish to help us?
I am all ears.
My daughter was once given a lovely little picture book called “Ish”, by Peter H. Reynolds. It is the story of Ramon, a young boy who likes to draw, “Anytime. Anything. Anywhere”. One day though Ramon’s older brother Leon snickers at one of his works of art, saying it doesn’t look like anything. This is so hurtful, that Ramon discards his work and decides to never draw again. He can’t make anything look “right”. That is, until he discovers his little sister Marisol has created a gallery of his crumpled up art on the walls of her room. Tenderly she declares which one is her favourite. “That was supposed to be a vase of flowers,’ Ramon said, ‘but it doesn’t look like one.”
“Well, it looks vase-ISH!’ she exclaimed”.
Marisol’s simple statement changes Ramon: “[he] felt light and energized. Thinking ish-ly allowed his ideas to flow freely. He began to draw what he felt- loose lines. Quickly springing out . Without worry.”
Since re-reading this book the other night, I haven’t been able to stop considering how important thinking “ish-ly” has become in my life. Many have heard me lament that I don’t ever know how to succinctly answer the question, “how are you?”. The temptation so often is to say “okay”. However “okay” doesn’t really cut it. Okay presumes too much. The truth is, I’m okay-ish. I’m basking in the wonderment that PNC is not just surviving, but growing; I’m grieving death; I’m enjoying my family; I’m mostly trusting that there will be enough money to pay the bills- sometimes not so much; I’m tired AND I’m invigorated. I am no one thing.
I am also learning to embrace doing things ish-ly at PNC. We are no longer housed in a piece of the neighbourhood, we are more fully inhabiting it. The challenges of this (and there are many) do not outweigh the benefits. Our community is expanding as we keep thinking outside of the box.
At the end of the book, Ramon is sprawled out on a rock, his feet dipped in a lake, the sun shining on his face. “One spring morning, Ramon had a wonderful feeling. It was a feeling that even ish words and ish drawings could not capture. He decided NOT to capture it. Instead, he simply savoured it…”
May I learn to do that too.
Bus-y-ness (biz-ee-nis), noun. I looked this word up in the dictionary and was interested to learn that it originated in 1849. That’s only 163 years ago. It seems that “the quality or condition of being busy” is a relatively modern issue.
Life is busy whether we like it or not. That’s just the reality. However, we also must concede that much of it is self-imposed. I admit that I know how to be busy. I can easily make a long list of things to do, including juggling multiple events in a single day. I have sometimes been accused of being the busiest person around. Hmm. I don’t know if that’s such a good thing. As I ponder this, I realize that it’s not that I need to reduce my daily load to nothing, it’s that I need to carefully consider exactly what I choose to include. I need to decide what I value.
When it comes down to it, I most value relationship: relationship with my God, my spouse, my child, my extended family, friends and community. This means that being intentional about communing with God is key, ensuring that I’m home to cook dinner matters, that meeting PNC’s neighbour for coffee is important, and that listening to a friend and being generally present to people is precious.
I feel especially challenged these days to not get caught up in thinking about everything that needs to be done. When I think about the gigantic list, I get handcuffed, not knowing where to start or when to stop. I instead need to focus on what is necessary for me to do, right in the moment. Sometimes this means responding to e-mails, or kissing a scraped knee, or actively fund-raising, or seeing my counsellor, or scouting a new location for PNC. I am learning that I can’t do it all, all at once. Nor am I called to.
Coming to this understanding brings new freedom. I am free to treat each day as a new one, seeking to do the tasks of that day well. I am released to rest and not worry about tomorrow.
Because really, none of us know what tomorrow holds. We do know what’s right in front of us.