Monday, May 19, 2008

The story tellers

A fresh moist breeze blows in off the Bay. Leafy foliage whispers of days past, of memories of walks upon the beach, of sunsets bruising the sky rose and pink and purple. The sky is leaden grey, the waters the colour of gun metal. And still, it's beautiful. Fresh. Open. Inspiring.

This is an old hotel in Vancouver. Built in 1912, it sits on a spit of land called, English Bay. A girl walks by. Long blond hair. Bare feet. Dancing slippers in hand. Man's white shirt. She walks towards the beach. A promise to self fulfilled? I will dance upon the sand. Swim in the ocean. -- A little chilly for ocean dipping, but non the less, she heads westward. Across the avenue, the grassy knoll and sand and into the water. Brave. I do not join her.

Yesterday, C.C. and I wandered the city streets with my friend BA. We hopped from bar to bar, caught a movie (What happens in Vegas -- wait for the video) and then strolled to a tapas bar, shared a jug of Sangria and a plate full of to-die-for prawns -- a little bit of ocean paradise on a plate of aromatic rice -- on our way back to the hotel. It was a joyfully relaxed kind of kick back day. No worries. No pressing to do's. No must be somewhere before 5 kind of exercise. Just good friends. Good food. Laughter. Parks and avenues. Ocean views and sunlight. People watching and gawking.

As C.C. and I walked back to the hotel I started to tell him about the people walking by. A man, holding his little girl. Laughing. "He's just left the hospital where his son was born. He's going home with his little girl to put her to bed, (it was very late) and then he'll sit with a cigar and a glass of cognac on the patio, the spicy romance from an azalea bush in full bloom beside him reminding him of the perfume his wife wears, the smell of her hair in fresh rain. He'll toast his newborn child, whose name is Adam and celebrate his three year old daughter, Serena and whisper to the quiet night, his voice barely audible in the dark for fear he will awaken the gods of misfortune, "What a wonderful life!"

A young woman walked towards us, her face downcast. Shoulders slumped. "Her name is Sylvia. Her mother named her after Sylvia Plath whose poetry she consumed when in University many years ago. She's just left dinner with her mother and father," I told him. "Once again they've hounded her about when is she going to settle down. Find a man. Have a family. She wants to tell them she's gay. She wants to tell them the truth. To introduce them to Felicity. But she can't. As she walks home she anticipates Felicity's questions coming at her like gun shots in the night. 'Did you tell them? What did they say. Will they meet me? Were they angry? You didn't tell them did you? I can't go on like this.' And then the arguing, the pleading, the petitioning for more time. For patience. She's not looking forward to getting home. She wants to keep walking. Walking into the night but she knows she must go home and face the other music. Her evening bookended by deceptions she cannot unravel. Truths she cannot tell. Truths she cannot face."

It is a game my daughters and I used to play all the time. As we drove along a busy avenue I'd ask them to tell me a story about someone we passed. 'That man. The one with the tie loosened. Briefcase heavy. Suit jacket slung over one shoulder.' Thirty seconds to tell a story.

Street stories. Give them a name. Tell a story.

Like the faces on the street. The homeless who are nameless. The huddled bodies who crowd doorways and bus shelters in this city by the sea. I see them all the time at home and even there, they seldom have a name and the one's they use are often fictitious. Aliases. Always a story unknown. I seldom give a homeless person a story. Their story is all they have. It is all they carry. All they cling to.

I thought I saw a man I recognized as we drove into the city. He looked like a man from the shelter where I work. I was sure it was him. I wanted to call out, but I didn't. I didn't know his name.

This city is a story of contradiction. Of million dollar condos soaring high. Forever views of ocean vistas sailing into tomorrow. Of cast off designer clothing covering a man lying on the sidewalk, his guitar pressed between his knees. There's no more music for him to play. Just a guitar with broken strings and worn out fingers desperately grasping for a note he can no longer find.

Contradictions abound and I wander the streets in awe of the beauty around me. Panhandlers look different here. Some are clean cut. Prosperous looking. Like the lady sitting on the stairs by a bus stop. Washed hair. Nice slacks. Happy looking. Can you spare change for a bus fare? she asked. We kept moving.

It's hard to walk away from the poverty on the street. Hard to ignore. It's also hard to walk away from the beauty on the streets. Hard to ignore.

Ocean and islands, a river streaming into the bay. Mountains soaring high, snow topped peaks running down into the valleys below. A city of infinite possibilities. A city that wrestles with how to become a fashion plate in the imminent arrival of the world when the Olympics take place in two years time. Sweep away the dust. Whitewash the walls and you will have a city that says to the world, "You are welcome here." Unless you're homeless.

Like every city in the country. The homeless are not welcome here.

And then a ray of sunshine breaks through the clouds above and I am reminded of the beauty and the joy of being alive in this moment. Of breathing deeply. The air pungent with the aroma of green and flowers and sea breezes.

In every drop of rain that falls sunshine lives.

In every face I see, there is a story. Some people are just better story tellers than others. Some people know where they're going. Some people know where they've been. And some, are simply lying on the streets waiting for a moment to get up and tell their story. I cannot give them a story worth telling. It is up to them to find their meaning.

Stories exists everywhere. It's up to me to find the meaning in the stories I tell about my life today. It's my responsibility to find the story that reflects the life of my dreams, the story that dances upon the streets as I surrender and fall in love with where I'm at, right now, in this moment, sitting at a desk looking out between panes of glass surrounded by ivy, out across the bay bracketed by mountains on one side and a grassy spit of land on the other. Out across the ocean blue.

I am blessed.

No questions today. Just the knowing that where ever you are, live large. Dream big. This is your one wild and precious life. Live it up.

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