Monday, November 30, 2009

Where do you find hope?

The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure but from hope to hope. Samuel Johnson
We held our fourth annual art show and sale yesterday. Sponsored by Wild Rose United Church, the sale showcased the work of eight artists from the Wild Rose Studio at the shelter where I work. The day also included the DI Singers performing three songs they have worked diligently on over the past several months.

It was a day of expansion. Of hearts opening and spirits rising as the artists, singers and those who had come to support them joined with a congregation of caring people and created magic.

When I first started the art program it was through a generous donation from the Wild Rose United Church Foundation. A donation that allowed us to purchase paint supplies and canvases and brushes. Since the art program started, we have held the sale every year on the First Day of Advent at the church. And every year, Linda, the minister, includes the artists in the service by inviting one of the artists, or myself, to light the advent candle.

At the beginning of the service, Linda asked the question, "Where do I find hope?"

I find it here, I told the congregation when it was my turn to speak. Here amidst people who stand by us as we work with those who have lost their way on the road of life and are struggling to find their way back home.

I find it here, where everyone is accepted without being judged as less than or other than.

I find it here, where you stand beside us, support us and encourage us to explore the creative wonder within so that we can share our wonderful gifts with you.

It was a far cry from the reception our clients received one night last week when we turned up to volunteer at the Marriott Hotel.

It was Grey Cup Week. To celebrate, the Marriott Hotel, one of our local downtown hotels, put on a huge party Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. As part of their community service, the hotel offered to donate the monies that fifteen volunteers a night would have earned helping at the parties. It was a 'sweet deal'. We hoped to raise $10,000 over three nights of volunteering. The volunteers were looking forward to a good time rubbing shoulders with football players and the city's 'who's who' while giving back to the agency. They were hopeful it would be an evening of camaraderie and good fun.

We put together three teams of client and community volunteers and on Thursday night, the first team set out to make a difference. The crew was a bit nervous. It was our first time organizing such a team and we wanted to ensure it went off without a hitch. Seven external volunteers turned up along with eight client volunteers as well as our Volunteer Coordinator. Dressed in black pants, black shirts, they all looked the same. Except for their address on the Volunteer Registry, no one could tell their housing status.

Except for the staff supervisor at the hotel. "Some of these people are homeless," she said, scanning the list and noting the shelter address.

"Yes," replied the Volunteer Coordinator. "We've vetted them and everyone understands the purpose of our being here and the rules. We're very confident in our people."

"Well," said the supervisor. "They might get drunk or steal stuff. They can't stay."

When I got the phone call from the Volunteer Coordinator he was in tears. "It's not right. How do I tell the guys they're not wanted?"

It wasn't right.

We pulled out of volunteering at the event and the subsequent evenings too.

It wasn't right. There was no hope of changing her mind. Everyone left deflated.

I felt little hope that night for changing hearts and minds. I felt little hope that we could create a more caring society. I felt little hope that the clients would be saved from feeling shamed, or embarrassed. "Don't worry about it," one of the clients told the Volunteer coordinator. "It happens all the time. We were kind of expecting it."

Where is the hope in such callous treatment of human beings?

And then we held the art show yesterday. Hope rose. It awoke, within me, within the hearts of those who stood up for the performers. It rose as they came into the church hall and wandered amidst the art work on display.

James Bannerman (click on Jame's name and you can see some of his work and purchase his calendars and cards) turned up to sell his calendars and Christmas cards and photographs. James has cancer. Serious cancer. But he turned up. "I didn't want to miss it," he told me. He sat on the seat of his walker. His body emaciated. His skin sallow, ashen grey. I put my arm around him to give him a hug and felt the boniness of his shoulder. I wanted to cry.

He looked at me and smiled. "I'm okay. I'll stay as long as I can. I'm not giving into it," he said.

There was hope in his voice, in his eyes. Hope that possibly the cancer wouldn't win. Hope that the afternoon would lift his spirits.

His presence lifted mine.

A new artist also came. Gazzy is from Central America. His pencil drawings were very popular. He sat and painted as people wandered around, and he too felt hopeful. "I hope I can keep coming up to the studio," he said.

I hope he does.

Tamara was also there. She's a fifteen year old high school student who makes jewellery and knits scarves to raise money for the shelter. It was her fourth year at the show. She was eleven when she first started her own not-for-profit, Heartprints: Kids for a Cause. Over the past four years she's raised over $5,000.

Tamara gives me hope.

Throughout the afternoon the singers sang. The artists buzzed around, the church volunteers served tea and coffee and snacks. The air was filled with excitement. With opportunity. With caring. With hope.

I know where to find hope.

It's in that place where caring hearts open up to the wonder of being connected through the human condition we all share.

It's in that place where acceptance folds itself back and peels away our judgements to reveal our common ground.

It's in that place where spirit awakens to the beauty within each of us as we share the best of who we are when we celebrate the best of what we have to offer, no matter what side of the street we come from.

The question is: Where do you find hope?


Maureen said...

I will add James Bannerman's name to Our Cancer's Prayer Posts. We traffic in hope there.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Thank you Maureen. You give me hope.