I had to get into my office early this morning. At 7am the road will be closed in preparation for the Calgary Stampede Parade, blocking off access to our driveway.
Kitty corner to the homeless shelter where I work, the start-up area for the Parade is swarming with people milling about, horses fretting and floats getting their last finishing touches. Parade marshalls scurry about checking on placements, ensuring participants know the what to's and how to's of being part of the extravaganza about to unfold on Calgary's downtown streets. Clowns practice their smile generating arts. The area is a sea of colour, glitter, balloons. Bands warm up their instruments, riders give one last polish to their horses bits and bridles, straighten blankets, check hooves. Multi-coloured floats, people in costumes from around the world, bands, and horses prepare to kick-off, The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
And across the street, staff and clients of the Drop-in watch the scene unfold. Men and women pick up their back-packs and trudge off to work. Others pick up their blankets and head to the park while others stake out their turf beneath the overpass of the bridge laden with cars streaming into downtown.
A world of contradictions once again.
In one corner, excitement. Energy. A rainbow of colour. A panoply of people. In the other, the tired awakening from a short night's sleep interrupted with the constant stirrings of the mass of people who nightly call the shelter home.
In one side, purpose. Destination. Anticipation.
On the other side of the street, a world of difference. A place where few believe they have the capacity to make a difference in their lives today. And all they anticipate is having to figure out what they can do with their day, how will they fill their time, before their next fix. Their next meal. Their next sleep.
Yet, once upon a time, everyone had a dream. As children, they played in the streets with their friends. Tossed balls. Skipped rope. Played hide and go seek. They went to school. Dreamt of growing up and being someone. To count. To matter. To be of value.
Somewhere, a corner was turned. An alley was entered. A path was taken that crossed over to the wrong side of the street. Somehwhere, someone got lost in the swarm of humanity fighting their way through addictions, mental disorder, family violence, abuse and the host of other contributing factors that result in one day, their becoming that which they had never dreamt possible. Homeless.
I look out my window this morning and watch the parade gather up its floats and horses and marching bands and know that this is the real world. This is the world of life. It's filled with love and laughter. Tears and sorrow. Addictions. Family Violence. Abuse. Mental Disorders. Of shared experiences, dreams being lived, being forgotten, being left behind. It's a world of community.
I look inside the building and around the grounds and know that this too is the real world. This is the world of life. It's filled with love and laughter. Tears and sorrow. Addictions. Family Violence. Abuse. Mental Disorders. Of shared experiences, dreams being lived, being forgotten, being left behind. It's a world of community.
The difference is where we live. One provides us a label of respect. The other a label no one wants to wear. Homeless.
On a hillside overlooking the parade marshaling area, a group of shelter clients have staked out a spot where they can safely watch the parade unfold. Their clothes are dark and grimy. They laugh together. Talk. Watch the life unfolding on the streets below.
On the sidewalk at the bottom of the hill, people walk, shoulder to shoulder. Dressed in bright coloured clothes and cowboy hats, they scurry towards the avenue ahead where in an hour the parade will begin its long, slow, serpentine march through downtown. As they reach the avenue, they stake out a spot as close to the edge of the sidewalk as possible. They set up their chairs, their coolers. Some have umbrellas. Some sit on the concrete waiting.
The difference is, no one along the parade root will get a ticket this morning for sitting on the pavement.
For the individuals for whom home is a story of once upon a time, they sit in constant alert for someone to come and hassle them out of the way as the parade sweeps past and city workers scurry about cleaning up the route.
It's a world of contradictions and juxtapositions this morning. At the edge of the city core, I watch the world unfold, secure in my place.
I cannot change anyone's life. I can only affect my own. Like Darren, I want to make a difference. Working here gives me that chance. Writing here gives me that opportunity. Speaking up gives me a voice.
I am blessed.