The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have. Anna Quindlen*Once upon a time, I was a child. I grew into a woman and experienced, at one point in that journey, the horror of becoming an abused woman. I didn't have to stay in that role. I didn't.
Life is filled with bumps and hurdles. With unexpected pitfalls, surprising downturns. Life is also filled with freeways and exit ramps. Waterfalls and pools of joy and laughter. Easy rides and home runs.
Life is filled with adventure.
Whatever life leads us to, doesn't destine us to remain forever there. We always have choice.
Last night, I was at the mask making workshop we're holding at the homeless shelter where I work. One of the attendees, Harry** was reluctant to come last week when the course started, he demurred with an emphatic. "I'm not creative. I don't do that stuff."
Harry is in his late forties, early fifties. A shy, gentle man. Crinkles around his bright blue eyes that twinkle with mischief even when his smile doesn't peak out from behind his salt and pepper mustache. He's been a client for a couple of years. Wicked sense of human and an addiction that undermines his belief in himself.
Last night, there were two new participants in the workshop. One from the University. An artist working on a national conference on homelessness that will be held in Calgary next spring, Growing Home. The other, an actor who is part of the cast of a play on homelessness that will be staged during High Performance Rodeo next January. The cast will be rehearsing at the shelter in December. This was his first time in the shelter, and his first time making a mask.
Douglas, the 'professor of mask-making' was busy talking to a couple of students when the two newbies sat down beside Harry to begin their masks. Since starting his first mask last week, Harry has created four new masks -- all of them stunning statements of his creativity, his perspective, his voice. As one of the students beside him struggled to make the armature for his mask, Harry leaned over and said, "Here, let me help you. It's easier if you do this." And he showed him how to easily put the armature together.
As the student began to gather clay to form the mask, Harry again intervened with helpful directions. The other new student asked a question and the three of them began a discussion about building masks as Harry gave them insight into what he's learned over the past week, sitting in the art studio, quietly working on his masks.
It was a profound moment.
To listen to a man who didn't believe in himself, who has relatively nothing in the material world, other than the insight he's gained over the past week, share his knowledge with two strangers who believed in what he had to say.
Ancient Greek statesman, Pericles, is quoted as having said, "What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."
In the lives of two artists yesterday, Harry's helpful words, his perspective, his wisdom will be forever woven into the fabric of their masks and their lives.
In Harry's masks, his voice will be forever heard through the art he created, even when he didn't think he could.
Sitting there last night, working on my mask, listening to the conversations around me, hearing the hope come alive in the voices of those who had given up hope of every finding a life beyond homelessness, I was inspired. Touched. Moved. Elated.
Working at the shelter is new for me. I've never worked in not-for-profit before. Never worked in the social services. Working at the shelter will always be a part of my life. My experiences will always be a part of me. Always inspire me. Always temper my criticism, my judgements, my perspective.
Working at the shelter has changed me. Being in an abusive relationship, changed me. Being a mother, changed me. Losing my father, my brother, his wife, changed me. Losing contact with my nieces, changed me. Meeting Conrad changed me. Getting the miracle of my life in freedom away from that relationship, changed me. My sister and her husband helping me, changed me. Being able to accept their help, changed me. My daughters forgiveness, changed me. Writing my book, The Dandelion Spirit, changed me. Meeting C.C. changed me.
Everything that happens in my life, changes me. Sometimes, I willingly embrace the change and lead myself into new directions.
Sometimes, I resist the change. Stick my feet in the mud of inertia and try to drag myself back into the past, into the disbelief that this could be happening to me. No matter the change, whatever I do, also affects change, in my life and in the lives of those around me.
Like Harry last night. The realization that he had knowledge worth sharing. That others willingly listened and heeded his words, will change him. How the change affects him is up to him. But he can never go back to that man who believed he was, 'not creative'. He has proven himself wrong about a lie he told himself to keep him safe from changing.
Big changes will come. Harry has opened himself up to the possibilities. And as change happens, the lies he tells himself that limit his living a different life will be moved into the light of truth. As he lets go of his disbelief that there is another life out there, waiting for him to hold on and take the ride of his lifetime, he will change, and effect change on the world around him.
Change happens. It's up to us to move out from behind the masks of the lives we've lived and breathe life into living the life of our dreams.
The question is: How comfortable is your mask? Are you getting worn down by its weight? Are you willing to drop it?
*Thanks to my sister Anne for supplying the quote!
**Not his real name.