Friday, September 26, 2008

The Cinnamon Dolce Experience

It was a simple lesson in stepping outside my comfort zone, altering my routine to experience the possibilities of something different, something new.

Some mornings, particularly if I drive to work, I stop at the Starbucks across the river from the homeless shelter where I work and pick up my favourite, a Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte. Yesterday, much to my dismay, the barrista informed me they were out of non-fat vanilla syrup. 'Oh no!' I cried, my mind wrestling with the thought of sugar laden vanilla syrup.

"We have other non-fat syrups," the barrista suggested.

My mind balked. Change my routine? Something different? But, skinny won out over calorie indulgement and I chose a Cinnamon Dolce.

Ok. So, this is not an advertisement for Starbucks. But, with one sip I was transported to Christmas. I was immersed in the warm and fragrant sensation of drifting on a bed of cinnamon, my world a swirl of pine boughs and Christmas carols lilting through my mind.

And all it took was one sip of coffee out of the norm!

I arrived in my office adrift on thoughts of a world of peace and joy. That sensory delight in the morning carried me through my day. It carried me through a tense discussion about ethics and accountability. A heated debate about ten year planning to end homelessness and day to day exigencies of dealing with individuals for whom homelessness is their reality with no end in sight. And, it sustained me through a meeting with a Native couple who have been treated badly by the very people who promised to help them end the homelessness that was putting their lives, and the life of their unborn child, at risk.

My world at work is not all lilting song and tidings of comfort and joy. At times, hopelessness seeps in and I become mired in the sense of futility that sometimes pervades the atmosphere with the seemingly endless stream of individuals pushing through our doors, looking for somewhere to get in from the cold.

Yesterday, a sip of cinnamon laden coffee reminded me that my state of mind is determined by my attitude, not the world around me.

Yesterday, a different choice, created a different state of mind in which I could see the possibilities, rather than the futility, of making a difference.

Pinpricks of hope stand out in my day like hoar frost in the morning light. Like cinnamon sprinkled on foaming milk, they add zest to a world where hopelessness pervades.

A meeting with a minister at the church where we will be holding our annual Christmas art show. One of the artists from the shelter attended with me. To see him sit with such pride as he contributed to the planning reminded me everyone has value, everyone wants to make a difference, we just have to make room for their difference.

A visit from another client. An alcoholic, he's cut back on drinking with each day he's worked at reclaiming his artistic endeavours. He is incredibly talented. Yesterday he asked if I would take photos of his work and print them so that he could take them with him to his nephew's wedding on the weekend. He's travelling north to Edmonton. Hasn't been away from the shelter, except on binges, in five years. Hasn't seen his daughter in that time either. She'll be at the wedding.

"I'm kinda stressed," he told me when I brought him the folder of printouts. "But I'm going to do this."

How far he's come. Two years ago when I started the art program, he would attend on an irregular basis. He'd sit quietly in a corner by himself, hunched over his table, seldom sharing what he'd done. Now, he volunteers in the studio. His works stand on display. He often searches me out in the building to talk about what he's working on, about technique and colour and composition, about ideas on how the art program can grow and flourish. And now he's carrying copies of his work to show his family. He's still drinking. He may never quit. But, the change in his demeanour is profound. His pride in what he's doing, inspiring.

In the art studio, another client has started to turn up. I've chatted with him in the day area. Nothing deep. Nothing earth-shattering. "Hello. How's it going." Yesterday, I stopped by the studio to chat with the volunteer and there he was sharpening a pencil.

"Hi Louise!" he greeted me enthusiastically. He moved back to the table where his work was spread out and picked up a drawing. "Do you think I could sell this in the art show?"

I looked at his pencil drawing of an eagle and a warrior. It was superb.

"Wow! That's fabulous. I didn't know you were an artist."

"I used to draw. All the time. This is the first time I've done any in three years." He paused. Ran a hand over the surface of his drawing like a blind man exploring someone's face. He muttered something about being glad to be able to do it again and sat back down to draw.

I smiled. Touched his shoulder and quietly said, "I'm glad to see you here."

He nodded his head and kept drawing.

Baby steps.

For that man, stepping into the studio space was a giant leap outside his comfort zone. Away from the familiarity of his surroundings on the second floor, apart from the crowd with whom he usually hangs, he was stepping out, stepping into a world where his creative spirit could find its wings to soar above the grim reality of homelessness.

Like a cinnamon dolce latte awakening me to the wonder of the world around me, his spirit was touched by the essence of something bigger and deeper than the world in which his daily existence is limited by the label he carries where ever he goes and the self-limiting beliefs that keep him living a life he never dreamed was possible. Homeless.

I work in a world where lilting song and tidings of comfort and joy can be hard to find. But, when I step beyond my comfort zone. Step out of my norm and open up to the possibility of change, I open the door for others to follow.

Two years ago, I started an art program. I love to paint. Thought I'd share my love of painting with clients who were interested in joining in on the experience. I'm not a trained artist. I'm not a teacher. Yet, in the process of sharing something I love, I've created space for others to find a creative spark to ignite their imaginations, and the possibility for change.

Yesterday, as I listened to Reg, the artist who joined me in the discussions about the Christmas art show and sale, I listened in awe as he explained what it has meant to him to be able to paint and draw in a safe environment, a place where possibility exists. "In the studio I'm free of labels. Free of the divide that keeps me on one side of the street. I can build bridges I can crossover. I can build bridges that others can use to reach my world and possibly gain some understanding of what it's like to be so lost you believe there's no way home again."

I had a Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte yesterday and awoke to the wonder and joy of Christmas unwrapping itself in my mind. Within the gift of its presence, I was reminded once again that life isn't in the comfort of doing what I've always done to get the same experience. Life begins beyond the edges of my comfort zone, on the other side of letting go of limiting beliefs that keep me trapped in living small.

Yesterday, Christmas arrived on a bed of cinnamon and I woke up to the magic and wonder of a world of limitless possibility, no matter what side of the street I'm on.

The question is: Are you stuck smelling dried out roses? Are you mired in the same old same old, limiting yourself to experiencing what you've always had, limiting yourself to living on one side of the street watching the world go by?


Anonymous said...


I like it !!! . . Can I publish it, with the usual modifications, on 360boom?


M.L. Gallagher said...

I'd be honoured.

Thanks Mark.

The site is: