Thursday, January 27, 2011

From here to there.

In Greek mythology, Athena was born, in full armor ready to take on the world, from a wound in the head of Zeus. Ouch! That must have hurt.

Sometime ago, I told my daughters the story of a woman who came to me after I'd given birth by Caesarean to console me. Your feelings of sorrow of not having experienced natural childbirth need to be expressed she told me. The support group for women who gave birth to their child through Caesarean could help me find a safe and caring environment for that expression.
I didn't know I should be missing the pain of pushing my child through the birth canal. I didn't know my child needed the pain of being squeezed through such a tiny place.

I didn't know what I didn't know. That pain was necessary. That the journey of life hurts.

I wonder how the butterfly feels tearing its way through the cocoon. Does it hurt? Does it spread its wings in those first moments of life outside the protected web of its self-imposed incarceration because its wings are hurting so much it will do anything to relieve the pain? And in that first painful stretch, discover, it can fly? Does a butterfly even want to fly or does nature just take over and lift it up? Does the eaglet even want to leave the nest?

Ignorance is bliss.

German philosopher and linguist Jean Gebser wrote, "And it would be well for us to be mindful of one actuality: although the wound in the head of Zeus healed, it was once a wound. Every "novel" thought will tear open wounds . . . everyone who is intent upon surviving—not only earth but also life—with worth and dignity, and living rather than passively accepting life, must sooner or later pass through the agonies of emergent consciousness."

Yesterday, I sat in on the 'parade' for a of police officers who patrol the downtown core. Because the zone which they patrol includes the homeless shelter where I work, they are often bringing individuals to the shelter, as well as encountering them on the street. The goal of my being present at their parade is to initiate dialogue that will help us find the common ground that links us in our goal of helping those who are homeless in our city.

Tearing through my pre-conceived notions and opinions hurts.

One of the officers asked me, "What do you want out of these sessions?"

I want us to hear each other and to find a way to common ground where we respect the work we each do, knowing it is part of what is necessary to support and help the people we serve.

Then, why don't you....

and the list began of the things we need to do differently as an agency to help people better.

Ah, if it were so simple.

I sat in that room and felt the weight of unborn possibility heavy in my soul. I almost cried at one point. I felt so helpless in the onslaught of their insistence that we, the shelter, are the problem.

"How many people here believe that because we built a beautiful building that opens its doors to anyone who comes through them, homeless increased in our city?" I asked.

A majority of hands rose.

I gave the statistics. 1992 homeless count. 476 homeless individuals counted. Each subsequent bi-annual count -- homelessness rose by 32%. Even after the shelter was opened in 2001.

We didn't draw people to city streets. We didn't pull them into homelessness because we wanted more money from the government. People came because of what was happening in their lives. They came because of addictions and mental health issues and breakdowns of families and communities and a host of other causes... all of which we contribute to, or tolerate because.

It's the 'because' that's hard to define.

Why has homelessness risen throughout western society? Why are more rehab beds needed? Why is divorce a 50/50 outcome of marriage?


And that was the hard pill to swallow yesterday.

I know their hardened lines and entrenched opinions about what we at the shelter do are founded on their frustration that there is no answer for many of the people they pick up off the streets and carry to our doors. That when they arrive, we watch suspiciously to see if they've 'harmed' the individual, must hurt.

"Do you help natives get back to their communities?" one officer asked. "What are you doing to reconnect them to their families?"

"What if they don't want to go?" I asked.

"I had a young guy who, all he wanted was to get back to his reserve but he couldn't afford a ticket. Why don't you buy him a ticket?"

"We don't have the funding. Do you?"

"No. But that's not our job."

"And you think it's ours?"

"Well, you get government funding to run the shelter. Why don't you use it to help people get back home."

"We do," I replied. "And we start with where they're at. Sometimes, it's all we can do. Keep people safe, provide them shelter, where ever they're at, until they awaken to the realization that they're desire is to survive -- and to survive, they must go through the pain of recovery."

Hard place. This realization that to live we must break open the wounds we've been anethesizing through our addictions, behaviour, denial...

And it is just beginning to form in my head.

For all of us -- where ever we are, is in that moment, exactly where we are meant to be. Realization, awakening, knowledge comes through the pain of being places we don't want to be. Places that no longer fit us and discovering, we are not just passive observers of life, we are our lives, exactly the way they are unfolding.

When I was in an abusive relationship, I took the passive path of least resistance. I fell into the belief, I could do nothing, changing nothing, be nowhere else than in that painful place.

I was passive. I told myself passive stories where I was not the heroine, but the victim of my circumstances.

In active engagement with my life, the pain of realization, of awakening, hurts. But go through it I must if I am to live this one wild and precious life fully awakened in the rapture of now.

I had to go through the darkness to find the light. There were a thousand paths I could have taken, that relationship was one of the one's I chose.

I was unconscious.



Of my own pain grappling with the self-created cocoon of my thinking that someone else could give me happiness, someone else could give me everything I wanted in life.

For those experiencing homelessness on our streets, their sleep is long. Their pain deep.

Some will awaken. And until they do, we must keep them safe. Keep them alive.

Sometimes, it is all we can do.

And sometimes, all we can do when others criticize, condemn or complain is open our hearts and minds and let them give voice to the pain that drives them into believing, We are not doing enough.

In our 'not doing enough' we are being all we're meant to be at that moment. As best we know how. As best we're willing to accept without going through the pain of birthing a new identity, a new way of living, a new path to walk. All of us.

Accepting that the pain we feel in this moment is the pain of life birthing itself through us every day, every moment, -- now that's a more challenging place to live.

This is a work in progress -- I'm not sure where it's going -- but I am willing to let it have birth as it comes into being. Not 'being perfect' is painful. It's a good place for me to be.


Anonymous said...


Good lines, I enjoyed the read.

And, the other stuff, between the lines - the unwritte, the unspoken - I'm trying to read that too, just as you are trying to say it aloud.

Say it, out loud in a room, or on your page - but say it, yell it, scream it out

When it is out, you give those feeling voice and life and power to do something about it.

When you keep it in, it can only knaw its head off inside you.

You deserve better, deserve to be in control of your life, chart your desitiny and live your life in the joy you so often describe.

You are not your brother's (or anyone elses) keeper; you are the keeper of you . .



p.s. .. yeah, nice piece about your meeting with the police, but we know that was just story telling metaphor, don't we?

Maureen said...

Wow, how difficult that session must have been. As I read the post, all I could think of was that line from a Mahmoud Darwish poem, "Bring back the human". Until the police begin to look upon those who experience homelessness as human, they will never see the shelter's work as necessary and never see their own role as other than getting people off the street. That a majority of those present thought the existence of a shelter increased homelessness was astounding, as is the ignorance expressed in the comment about "the natives". Don't give them a name; it ensures they don't exist. Every one of us has a responsibility to the other, and that responsibility begins with the regard we extend to others. (I'll stop now because I can feel myself getting worked up.) I am so thankful that there are people like you in our world, Louise.

katdish said...

Ugh! It's difficult to work together when the goals are so different. Some just want the problem to go somewhere else where they don't have to see it. I think it's important to understand the whys, but it's so complicated. There's no secret formula. You may offer shelter and counseling to one person and get them off the streets, but that may not hold true for someone not ready to face their own whys. Breaking out of that cocoon is very painful I imagine.

S. Etole said...

This just leaves me a bit shaken ...

Anonymous said...

very beautiful and thought provoking post.

you may feel helpless sometime but whatever you are doing is marvelous.

lots of love.

Hope said...

I agree with your post which of coarse is written beautifully and clearly.

deep pain and emotions are laced through and through as well as determination and persistence. Survival techniques at the fittest. a great strength for what you do.

I admire people who are in one of the hardest jobs (I feel) we could do and that is to care for people who have been through things that most of us can't even imagine.

To be able to accept that, yes, some of these people are there by their own choices that they have made and to care for them knowing that it is not up to you to judge them. It takes a special kind of people to be able to handle the heartbreaking stories that emerge from the surroundings. to feel what they feel, to know what their heart is all about, to watch them walk away into the cold night once more not being able to let go of their pain and hurt. feeling of helplessness knowing that there is only so much you can do by means, regulations, protocol what have you.

I don't know how you do it. I know that i'm not one of those people that can do this job. we are not all meant for a profession like this.

I commend you for it. Like I said, it takes a certain kind of people, a special kind of people to do what you do.

All that you do is not in vain.


Anonymous said...

for finding ways of common ground, it is best to walk a mile in the other man's shoes.

active engagement would be to have some of each side spend time with the other side in doing the job that they do. to share in being together in the job. with no talk of the issue, but to just to walk that common ground, that holy ground that lies between each of you.

JTS said...

"...until they awaken to the realization that they're desire is to survive -- and to survive, they must go through the pain of recovery"

This phrase jumped out at me as ringing so true. What has produced the most healing in my life is the strong awareness that I wanted to be a survivor. I did not want to be defeated and destroyed. It is something I talk about often to my daughter and to my friends. "Be a survivor", fight back! And yes, choosing to become a survivor means accepting that one must first be purified by fire. It makes us stronger.

I believe that the will to survive is instinctive in all of us, if we can find a way to dig down inside and reconnect with that urge, and the power it gives us to overcome obstacles!

Excellent, thought-provoking post, Louise, I'm eager to see where you head with it! I learn so much here!

Melissa said...

Had been thinking along those lines before reading your post yesterday, which stirred me up... and my husband, too, when I read it to him last night. He mentioned that it was interesting that law enforcement has high rates of all of the same, alcoholism, suicide, abuse. Though I knew this, I thought more deeply of this, of how these are two sides of the same coin, and both are supported by us in their, I don't want to call it weakness, but it is the only word coming to me right now. To struggle with pain is awareness, not weakness. Thought of much, much more - but for now, still sending love and prayers your way.

Ruth said...

This is a tremendous piece of thinking-writing. The ways you have woven the complexities of giving birth (I had never considered the grief of not giving birth vaginally before this) with the other stories, of the homeless, of all the ways we must endure pain in order to really become what we are becoming, are beautifully conceived.

It's really a privilege to read your writing. I'm so grateful we've met.

And thank you, mightily, for so very carefully and considerately, doing what you do in your work. I am very moved that such attention is being paid -- by anyone -- to these very complex topics, and most of all, that there is such respect for all those who are in pain.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Thank you everyone for responding to this post and for your thoughts.

sometimes, the only way to clear muddy water is to stir it up -- like with my thinking.

You've helped me see more clearly the reality and possibilities.

Yesterday, I met with a cohort -- we are working on a project together around a compassion model that gives care-givers an understanding of how to take care of themselves -- I told her about your comments and how in them, I found the courage and encouragement to tackle the tough issues, to delve into the dark spots to uncover the light.

You give me hope with your support.