Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I rubbed a man's back today. Stood beside him and rubbed his back as he vomited into a bucket, his body hunched over in pain. There wasn't much else I could do. I couldn't stop his pain or change the course of the cancer that is eating up his strength from the inside out. And so I rubbed his back and felt the bony protrusions of a body wasting away.

And when his body quit heaving I handed him a damp towel and lead him back to his bed.

My day had started early. A presentation to the local police district office, a series of rotating talks I give early Tuesday mornings to ensure every officer in the district has an opportunity to be heard and to hear of the steps we are taking to build bridges and tear down walls of conflict. And when my presentation was over an officer from the previous week's presentation came in and apologized. He had attacked the previous week. Vented his frustration and anger over something that had happened months before when staff had questioned his handling of a man he was arresting.

I'm sorry he said. I should never have acted out the way I did last week. I should never have taken my frustration and anger out on you.

I felt your pain, I said. I sensed that you feel you were betrayed.

And he started talking. Started telling me about his 30 years on the national police force. His 30 years of being proud of the badge and the job he did.

I worked in the oil patch after I retired from the force, he said, but I missed the badge.

And so, he returned to policing, letting go of his previous rank to be an officer on the street.

I get to know that at the end of the day, every day, I have made a difference, he said. I'm not pushing paper. I'm touching lives.

We hugged when our conversation was over. No hard feelings, he asked.

I smiled. Absolutely none, I replied.

And when I got to the shelter where I work I went in search of the man who is dying of cancer. When I'd seen him yesterday he hadn't been doing well. Too much pain. Too much disease stalking his cells. The unhealthy were winning out over the healthy.

And I rubbed his back and wished there was more that I could do and knew that this was all I could do.

Later, after another meeting and editing of an article for our upcoming newsletter, I went with a new staff member, our media assets coordinator who just started working for us, to take a photo for the cover of the newsletter.

Dina, a client who has been at the shelter several years ago, came with us. She was clean and sober for five years, but fell recently. She's struggling to get back on her feet.

I love to have my photo taken she said, her arms filled with a jacket, a sweater, a hoodie. "Just in case I need to change my outfit for the photo," she smiled.

We drove across the river, up a hill overlooking the valley bottom. Across from us the shelter stood, it's seven story brick facade an imposing fixture upon an ever changing horizon.

Dina posed, Paul clicked photos and I stood in the late March sun enjoying the welcome warmth on my face.

Dina was in her element. Not shy. Loving every moment of being the centre of attention.

As we drove back to the shelter she asked if she could have a copy of one of the photographs.

Absolutely, said Paul.

Would it be possible to get three she asked. One for each of my daughters? I don't see them now. Now that I'm using again. I won't. Not like this. It's not fair to them. But it would be nice for them to have a photo.

she paused. People tell me I should quit, but my Higher Power hasn't told me it's time yet.

Another pause.

It's the 'should' that other people use that bothers me, she adds. I gotta do what I gotta do. It's what God means, she adds with a laugh. Get On Dina! And sometimes, Get off Drugs.

We laugh with her. Paul in the backseat. Me in the driver's.

I've got others she says. And she begins to rhyme them off.

HOPE -- Hearing other people's experiences

FAITH -- Finally acceptance is taking hold

COURAGE -- Conquering obstacles usually requires asking God's empowerment

Paul is so impressed he asks if she will record them for him.

She's so proud to be asked, she promptly says yes and lists some more.

SPONSORSHIP: Suffering people often need someone rigid so healing is possible.

NUTS: Not using the steps

BIBLE: Because I believe love exists

and one of my favourites

ASAP: Always say a prayer

We get back to the shelter and Dina goes to the second floor and I go back to my office.

Paul sends me an emails a short while later along with one of the photos he had taken. "I am so humbled by this place and the people," he writes.

Later, I am in the lobby to meet a reporter and a client I haven't seen for a few weeks is there. He greets me enthusiastically. I tell him how good he looks. And he does. Clean cut. Clear eyed. Confident.

I'm out, he says proudly. Working. You never knew but I'm a nurse and I'm working at the hospital.

I tell him how happy I am for him and he promises to call me soon. I want to come back and volunteer, he says. I want to give back. You guys did so much for me.

And so my day unfolds. Moment to moment. Life to life. Little steps. Big leaps. Big falls. Big changes in the right direction.

Life unfolding as it must. Not because it should, no never because it should. Always because it must. It does. It is. Just that. Life.

My day unfolds and as it does I promise to give myself a gift. ASAP

And I do.

Say a prayer.

Of gratitude.

Of thankfulness.

Of humility.

Of hope. Hope that one man's pain will end. A woman's addiction will be overcome so she can be reunited with her children. A man's journey into well-being will continue and an officer's integrity will be restored.

I say a prayer of thanks and know, my life has been touched by the lives of these people who have shared so much with me. And I know, I am better for their presence on my journey.


Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Powerful words, Louise.

thelmaz said...

I so admire your work and the joy you derive from it.

Louise Gallagher said...

Thank you Karen! Really appreciate your visit and words.

Louise Gallagher said...

Hi Thelma -- so love to see you here -- I love visiting your blog and immersing myself in your gentle spirit.

Maureen said...

The first thing that popped into my head when I started reading Dina's sayings was: These should be turned into mixed media collages. What a great art project this could be for those at the shelter... and maybe a benefit exhibit or an e-book.

S. Etole said...

I just came from Maureen's and reading what the fellow {Chris Abani} she featured said about acts of compassion ... you do those acts so well.

Tele said...

Beautiful. Getting to share your experiences, hearing the love you have for your work and the people you serve, makes me miss my social service days. It's truly a gift to participate in people's lives so intimately, isn't it? Thank you for all that you give, Louise, and thank you for writing about it.

Be well -

Louise Gallagher said...

What a brilliant idea Maureen -- I'll have to see if Dina is interested in coming up to the art studio to explore the possibilities!

Louise Gallagher said...

Thank you Susan -- I was moved to tears reading and listening to him.

Louise Gallagher said...

Thank you Tele -- it is a privilege and a gift to share so intimately in their lives -- I really appreciate how you said that -- about participating intimately in their lives.

Very beautiful.


Anonymous said...

you are very special.

trisha said...

thanks for sharing these experiences, you are a priceless person.