Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas is Family

I worry for a bit about asking the question. I worry people might think I'm being obtuse, or insensitive. I mean, the people I'm asking live in a homeless shelter. What do I think Christmas means to them?

I don't know. And so, I ask.

I find Tony sitting at a table on our second floor Day Area. His table companion has his head down, resting on folded arms. Asleep, he doesn't stir when I sit down and begin to chat with Tony.

I ask him my question. "What does Christmas mean to you?"

He doesn't hesitate. Doesn't stop to think. His answer is spontaneous. A big smile spreading across his face as he says, "Time with family. Sharing."

And he tells me about the first Christmas he spent in Canada. He'd come with his mother and three siblings from Jamaica when he was four. He laughs at the memory. "I was scared of snow man. I mean scared. But, I was the most inquisitive of my family. I wanted to taste that white fluffy stuff, even in my fear, so I ran outside and tried to catch me some. That didn't work too well so I picked up a handful and licked it. Man. I didn't know I needed to put mittens on!" He pauses. Looks me in the eye. Smiles. "Sure glad it wasn't yellow."

I laugh. And Tony continues on.

"I think Christmas is about shared memories. About cooking together and sharing a meal and laughing. Oh yes, laughing. When I was a kid my mom had a friend, Miss Wolf. She never had kids so she adopted us as her family. She loved me and I loved her and when I think of Christmas I think of Miss Wolf and how generous and kind she was."

He looks around at the people sitting at tables, reading, playing cards, resting their heads on their arms. Beside us a young man sits at a table with three young women. Somebody says something he doesn't like, and he begins to curse and swear, loudly. He gets up. Thumps the table. Walks off. One of the girls runs after him. "Jase. Jase," she calls. "Nobody meant no disrespect."  And he comes back and sits down.

The tableau unfolds beside us and Tony keeps talking, ignoring the commotion, the language, the furor. "You gotta block that stuff out," he tells me before I even mention anything. "You know, being here doesn't take away who I am as a human being. Nothing can do that unless I let it." He pauses again. Looks around. "And I won't let this place do that."

"I can't remember a time when I wasn't friendly. I think coming to Canada so young, being the youngest, I didn't know I was different. And in my home, my mother made everyone welcome. So, I just always assumed that's the way the world is."

I thank him for sharing his story and move on to ask someone else. I want a balanced perspective. Not just clients, but volunteers and staff too. I ask, Andy, a long-time volunteer who is getting ready to end his shift for the day. "I don't know," he tells me when I ask him my question as he unloads his wallet and keys and phone from his locker in the Volunteer Office. "I'm single and I think Christmas is meant for families. For kids. I love the laughter of kids at Christmas."

And we talk and he throw in tidbits of information like a gambler feeding a slot machine. "I don't really like to think about Christmas," he says. "It's a tough time." And a little later. "My mother died on Christmas Day five years ago. I was her caretaker for those last months and I couldn't come here to volunteer. Didn't want to compromise her already compromised immune system." And he shrugs his shoulders. "Yeah, I don't really like Christmas. But if I did, it would always be about family."

I thank him for his honesty and for sharing his spirit so generously. He closes the locker door, dons his jacket. "I don't work," he tells me as he tucks wallet and phone into a pocket of his jeans. "I took a sabbatical and now I just volunteer and travel and ski and," he stops and nods his head. Up and down. "Yeah. Christmas is about family. Gotta go." And in a flash he's out the door of the volunteer office where I've encountered him.

I walk back onto the second floor Day Area and ask Johnnie, a front line staff what Christmas means to him. "It's about the birth of Christ," he says. "That's it."

"What does Christmas at the shelter mean?" I ask.

He sighs. "You know, it can be a bad time for people here. Christmas is all about family and most of these people have been rejected by their families or they're too embarrassed to go home. You can feel it in the air almost. How they miss the people they love."  He laughs. It's gentle. Not at all harsh. "This place is pretty mellow and quiet around Christmas," he adds. "Too many lonely people struggling to make the best of a situation that's pretty hard to live with."

Another staff member, Al, is more pragmatic. "It means one year is gone and next year could be better."

Jack wanders past and stops to listen. He's drifted in and out of homelessness for much of his adult life. He's just got a full time job and is hoping to be gone from the shelter by Christmas. He tells me this with great enthusiasm as though the miracle of a job will fix everything. I pray he's right. He's been here before but his gambling addiction keeps bringing him back.  Perhaps one woman, a relatively new client to the shelter had it right when she said, "Christmas is a time of perpetual hope. Doesn't matter if you're living in a shelter or where you are, Christmas is about hope."

Jack finishes telling me about his job and asks what I'm doing on the second floor. "I'm asking people what Christmas means to them," I tell him.

His reply is quick and easy. "It's about family." And then he laughs. "You know, burying the hatchet and all of that."

And others agree, though one volunteer has a different slant on the relevance of 'family time' at Christmas. "It's about avoiding family at all costs," she says laughingly. "I think it's why I like it here so much," she adds. "I don't like getting gifts. I like giving. And I really like knowing that here, i can help people feel loved, not neglected."

And people keep coming up to share. "It's all about family." "Being with the one's you love."  "Oh, it's about children. Their laughter." And other's agree. "Oh yeah. There's nothing better than little kid's laughter at Christmas."

I see the theme. Feel it. Sense it with my being. It is all around. Permeating the air. Christmas is about family. And when far from the one's you love, you make a family with the one's you're with, no matter your circumstances or condition. "We gotta share whatever we've got," says Barb. A tiny birdlike woman, her journey through homelessness and living on the streets has produced three kids she's extremely proud of but whom she seldom sees. "I'm just too messed up for them to be near," she says. "They deserve better."

"I'm hoping to see them at Christmas," she adds. "I just became a great-grandmother. I'm hoping to see my great-granddaughter soon."

I wish her well. She calls over to a friend. "Lorraine! You gotta come answer Louise's question."

As a tall native woman approaches, Barb turns back to me. "Can I have a hug?"

"Of course," I reply. And we hug and I know. The truth is there between us. No matter our condition. The depth of our faith. The substance of our wallets or the colour of our skin. No matter if it's a carpenter and his pregnant wife seeking refuge in a stable or a homeless man seeking a bed in a shelter, Christmas reminds us, we are all connected. We are all family.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dancing Priest: Glynn Young's first novel

I got lost last night. Lost in the pages of a book turning one by one with a story unfolding before my eyes. Okay, so I don't know if I can get lost in the pages of a book when that book is on my Kindle on my iPad.

But lost I got.


I had to read the whole thing. I couldn't stop. The story kept pulling me on. In. Into the lives of two people who's journeys intersected, separated, intersected, separated. And no. I'm not going to tell you which direction they ended up in.

You'll have to read it all for yourself.

It's only available on Kindle until December when the paper back comes out.

You must get it. Seriously. That's a must.

If only because it is the celebration of Glynn Young. That's right. Glynn of Faith. Fiction. Friends. has had his first novel published and it's a good read. A read that keeps pulling you in and along on the flow of a story of two people who meet in University and for whom a difference in faith keeps them apart. Until as one of the characters says (and no, I'm not telling you which one) "God was chasing me down, and God got me."

Reading Dancing Priest by Glynn Young I felt like a voyeur. It felt kind of uncomfortable at times because I was inside the heart of someone struggling with faith and I was seeing too much of my own heart reflected back. Of my own disbelief, my own insecurity around faith and God and being Christian and not wanting to be Christian and not wanting to believe and not wanting to 'Let go and Let God.'

Dancing Priest is a good read. And last night, I got lost in the story of Michael and Sarah and found myself in Love.

I'm glad I did. It touched my heart. It made me smile and laugh and cry and it made me grateful for an evening of quiet -- not to mention it gave me an excuse not to do some of the chores I had intended to do :) -- and I'm always up for a good excuse to not do chores!

Instead of chores I was gifted with an evening of beauty. An evening to explore a story told in delicate dialogue that revealed more than just the goings on of the lives of two characters -- it revealed their hearts and ultimately, their faith.

It was a beautiful thing to see.

And as to the author. Wow! What a gift.

As the book was coming into its publication date, Glynn shared a few posts on how he came to write it, where the story was born and what it meant for him. Those posts can be found here, and here, and here.

Dancing Priest on Kindle can be found by clicking from Glynn's blog --  here.

Congratulations Glynn!  And Thank You!  You filled my evening with love and wonder and an awe of your faith.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Expectant Silence: An Advent Poem

Over at Spirituality and Practice I am engaged in an Advent retreat (Child of the Light with Beth Richardson) designed to connect me to the spiritual aspects of the season of Advent. As the days grow shorter and shorter, and the nights longer and colder, I am spending time everyday listening to a Christmas hymn/song, meditating and reflecting on what resonates within me as I stop, take a breath, quiet my mind and find myself centered in the wonder of being alive, in this special time and place, being me.

This morning, as sunrise streaked across the sky, in the aftermath of a wild wind storm yesterday where lawn furniture was blown all around and the side of my garage looks like the Revenge of the Soured Crab Apple has struck, I breathed deeply and found myself opening up to the wonder of this day.

I am seeking a place of quiet. A place where the hustle and bustle of the season wanes as I find that place within where I know connection, contemplation and communion with the world, within and outside of me. Where I live from my poet's heart, sensing the world through the beauty expressing itself through my soul's desire to be the one I have been waiting for, just as the Christian world awaits the birth of the One it has been waiting for.

And in that moment of quiet, this became my poem for the day.

Expectant Silence  (An Advent Poem)

In expectant silence
the world awaits
the coming
of a child
a world
of peace

In the quiet
of dawning light
I await
streaming rose and gold
threads of glory
filling the sky
with the promise
of a new day
born in the darkness
of the night

silence descends
light enters

I feel
the breath of God
awakening my soul
with fluttering wings
I become an oasis
of peace

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Peace: Advent devotional

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. I didn't need Glynn's excellent blog today at Faith. Fiction. Friends. to remind me of the significance of this day -- though I do thank him for his beautiful words that did remind me to centre myself, enter my heart and connect to the beauty and glory of God's breath moving through me.

 I was raised Catholic. Baptized at birth. Communion at age 6. Confirmation at age 8. We attended church every Sunday. My mother was a member of the Catholic Women's League and every Friday, I helped her change the flowers on the altar. I loved to wander through the church, examining each statue, standing before each Station of the Cross, bowing my head and saying a prayer. Most often, I prayed hardest for peace. World peace. Family peace. Peace I wanted it desperately. I wanted it to be real throughout the world. A child with a vivid imagination, it troubled me that there was war in our world. It disturbed me and left me feeling helpless. The only thing I knew I could do was to pray. And so, I knelt before each Station and prayed, for God, for Jesus, for Mother Mary and all the Saints to rain peace on our world -- I also didn't know the difference between reign and rain and so, I prayed for droplets of peace to fall down on everyone.

I loved the church. The quietness of the space. The holiness of the environment. I wasn't too keen on the structure -- seriously? How was I, a little girl of five to sit still through all the talk? I loved the music, the incense, the kneeling up and down, the genuflecting and bowing of my head. I loved the singing, the rituals, the repetitiveness of chanting Sanctus. Sanctus. Sanctus. But the talking on and on? It was hard to sit on that wooden pew and listen and not swing my legs or count the number of nubs of wool in my sweater or pick at the scab on my knee. It was hard to be good.

 As a little girl, Advent was one of my most favourite times of the year. It was a time of peace, hope, joy and love. A time of waiting. Anticipation and excitement. It was a time when our house became bedecked with greenery and red bows, a time when the smell of fresh baking, pies and savories, tarts and cookies, and the ubiquitous Christmas cake, filled the air with their heady aromas. There was the Christmas tree to decorate and the decision of who's turn it was to place the angel on high. As the youngest, I often tried to vie for position, but in fairness, we all four children had to take our turns. Though sometimes, if my sister particularly wanted something from me or really didn't want me to tell on her for some transgression, I'd negotiate for her coveted task of placing the angel at the top of the tree if it was her year to be the anointed. Sometimes, it even worked!

I loved Christmas. (Still do.) There were all the Christmas songs and parties, and of course, the Advent Calendar with its 24 little doors offering up a chocolate a day. And yes, there was the angst and hope and wondering... would Santa really show? It is hard to disconnect the commercial from the secular in Christmas. It is challenging to divest gift-giving from the heart to those we love with a desire to keep on giving, even when credit cards are maxed out -- because advertisements and marketers keep coaxing us to express our love by giving more than we can afford. And, it is hard sometimes to remember that Christmas isn't about buying and decorating and planning parties.

 Christmas is a time of waiting. Of contemplative reflection of the significance of the coming of a child who symbolizes all that is wondrous and glorious in our world. A child for whom Christian faith waits every year to bring God's message of Peace. Hope. Love. and Joy to a world so sorely in need of Peace. Hope. Love. and Joy.

This is the First Sunday of Advent. Today, I will place an Advent Wreath on my table as I do every year and light the first candle signifying Peace. In its light I shall pray for the same thing I once prayed for so fervently as a child -- Peace on earth. And in that light, I shall be connected to other lights shining brightly with their message of Peace on Earth. And together, we shall create more of what we want in the world.

 I invite you to join me in celebrating the season of Advent in contemplative joy. Do visit Glynn's site -- he has a link to a wonderful little e-book on celebrating Advent which I have already downloaded and begun to read. As we travel through these next four Sunday's of Advent, may we each be filled with the gifts of Peace. Hope. Love. and Joy.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Yes! We can end poverty.

There's always going to be bad stuff out there. But here's the amazing thing -- light trumps darkness, every time. You stick a candle into the dark, but you can't stick the dark into the light.  Jodi Picoult
We lit a lot of candles yesterday at the YWCA and Action to End Poverty conference -- Dream no Little Dreams.

We lit up a lot of darkness.

I asked the question yesterday. I asked it of the small group I was part of, and it was asked of the large group when our 'spokesperson' reported back to the large group.

"What am I doing to contribute to someone else's poverty?"

To highlight my question, I shared my belief it was important for me to tip servers more than I would have in the past. "I give a minimum of 20%, especially if it's a restaurant where alcohol is served."

"But you're letting the government off the hook," said one of our group. "They made the decision to make minimum wage for servers less than for others. Why should you pay for it?"

"Because it's 'my bad'." I replied. "When the government brought in legislation that increased minimum wage to $9.40 for all employees except those who serve liquor, where they set the minimum wage at $9.05, I did not speak up. I did not write, phone, email my government representative. I did nothing. I figure I need to pay for my mistake -- and I need to speak up! Now."

And there's a bigger question attached.

Why do we have a minimum wage of $9.40 ($9.05 if you serve alcohol) when the 'living wage' in our city is...


Seriously?  Why do we have a legislated minimum wage that keeps people in poverty?  And why am I doing nothing about it?

Heck, even at $12.50 you can't really afford to live in this city. And dreams of owning your own home? Taking a vacation? Buy your children Christmas gifts?  I don't think so.

We contribute to other people's poverty everyday. From not tipping, to paying the handyman below living wage, to supporting company's that do not pay a living wage, we are contributors to other people's poverty.

It was a great day yesterday at the conference. Lots of inspiring people, great information and a sense of purpose. As one of the speakers said, we can 'abolish' poverty.  "Imagine," he said. "If when the abolitionists took action they had said, 'we're going to start with the goal to  decrease slavery by 25%'."



It was a day of dreaming big dreams. Of casting ideas and creating a net to catch them and carrying them out of the seas of possibility into the clarity of a dream that says, YES! we can end poverty. We must. We will.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thinking about poverty

I am attending a conference today on poverty. Hosted by the Action to End Poverty in Alberta and the YWCA of Calgary, the organizers hope to come out of the day with a concrete 'move forward' plan that will create a unified voice in our province around the issues of poverty as well as people eager to participate in furthering today's agenda.

Last night, I joined conference organizer, Joe Ceci along with keynote speaker, Tony Martin for dinner and we talked about -- how do you end poverty?

In some ways, the question is egotistical on our part -- I cannot 'end' something in your life without your consent, and if you don't believe it can 'end' all my ranting and raving and coercive dialogue will do nothing to end what I perceive to be the issue in your life.

Yet, it is a question that must be asked. How do we end poverty? Because poverty keeps people down. Or, maybe the question has to be asked differently?  How do provide opportunities for people to rise above the poverty line?

Perhaps the answers begins with ending the things we do to contribute to poverty and the existence of 'the line'.

Poverty is like an addiction. It wears you down. It ladens you with shame. You spend so much time grinding your way through the day, there is no energy to 'be' anything other than tired. Tired of the drag. Of the inertia, the numbing drain of fighting for one more dime, one more bit of a break to stretch the dollars to meet the dates flying by on the calendar. And in that tired place, there is no sense of hope, of tomorrow will be a better day. There is no relief from living below the poverty line.

When you put your children to bed and lay awake all night worrying about the fact there's nothing to feed them for breakfast, you don't have much room for optimism. You know their stomachs will not be filled with 'hoping' the cupboard will be full in the morning.

How do we end poverty? Perhaps, we need to begin with asking ourselves, What do I do to help create and/or sustain it? And then, look deep to determine, how do I change what I'm doing that keeps people in their poverty stricken place?

Reality is, we, the askers, contribute to creating poverty in our world -- if only for the simple reason, many of us don't hold our governments accountable for what they do with our tax dollars to relieve the suffering of our neighbours. If we don't identify what we are dong to contribute to rising poverty levels in our cities and communities, we really can't change what we're doing.

So, in an effort to understand where and how I contribute to poverty in my community, I must start with a few random statements and questions on my ideas/feelings/thoughts on poverty so that I can understand -- what I know about the issues surrounding poverty and where I stand to create change:

  1. I do not like being poor. Does anyone?
  2. I've never been 'poor' as in 'living in poverty'. I have been poor as in -- no money. Lost everything. Do I really understand the fear, sorrow, terror of a mother who can't give her child breakfast?  When my cupboards are full, does that mean everybody else's are too? (and that's a rhetorical question...)
  3. Economic poverty is different than emotional/spiritual poverty. Economic poverty is externally generated. Emotional/spiritual poverty comes from within -- but is this a chicken and an egg thing? Does economic poverty leave you emotionally drained so that you have nothing left to feed your spirit? OR If you're born into poverty does that mean you have little emotional/spiritual resiliency to withstand the challenges of a poverty-riddled life?
  4. We can stop what we're doing to contribute to creating poverty. We can't end poverty in someone's life without their consent. How do we get consent when we continue to do the things we do that contribute to poverty in the first place?  OR is the question really -- How do we engage people suffering from poverty in the conversation when they can't afford the time or even the bus fare to get to the meeting?
  5. If people living in poverty want what we have, and what we have is contributing to poverty in our world, if they get it will there be more, or less, poverty in our world? For example -- employers want 'cheap' labour to keep the cost of goods down, or to increase their margins. Not paying a living wage keeps people in poverty.... and the circle continues.  For example.... affordable housing builds have been cancelled due to community opposition -- what are we afraid of? Poverty is contagious? 
  6. Poverty is very much a 'feminine' issue in that women are more likely to be poor, earn less than men (66% on avg of what men earn in Alberta), and when women experience poverty, so do their children.
  • The feminization of poverty, as a lived reality, represents something larger than simply a lack of income for a state of financial need for women. while the very definition of poverty implies the inability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, or shelter, being poor also implies the absence of choice, the denial of opportunity, the inability to achieve life goals, and ultimately the loss of hope.  Megan Thibos et al. (2007) The feminization of poverty. 
I'm thinking today will be an interesting, enlightening and exciting day. I'm thinking, there's much to learn, much to do.

I'm thinking....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bless them. Forgive me.

The purpose that you wish to find in life, like a cure you seek, is not going to fall from the sky. I believe purpose is something for which one is responsible; it's not just divinely assigned.  Michael J. Fox    

So, self-confession time, I can groan and grumble, criticize and complain like the best of them! 

But grumbling and complaining does not get me more of what I want in my life. It only leaves me feeling unhappy with myself, dissatisfied with my actions and uncomfortable in my ripple in the world.

One of the idioms I want to live by is:  Do not Criticize. Condemn. or Complain.

And then, I catch myself doing all three.

Hello? Seriously? All three?

And then I smile.

Yes. All three.

Bless them. Forgive me.

I am human and in my human condition I forget sometimes to fill my heart with gratitude and leave the dissatisfaction out of the picture.

Yesterday, as I was taking a media person around the shelter where I work, a client approached and said, "I hear you're leaving."

"Yes," I replied. "At the end of the year."

"I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "We'll miss you." And he handed me a chocolate bar. "Here. Merry Christmas. You've done a lot for all of us here. Thank you."

I was flummoxed. I didn't want to take it. I mean seriously. This is a guy who is homeless. Who has nothing to give and here he is giving what he has to me.

And then I remember one of the Lessons in Love I shared in my TEDxCalgary talk -- When you think you have nothing left to give, keep giving.

This man has chosen to live with gratitude. Chosen to give even as he struggles to get on with his life. And in his giving, he has given me the gift of joy, of laughter, of a smile of human connection.

I was at a loss to thank him yesterday. I smiled and said Thank you, but I was overcome with his gesture of giving. In my loss of words, he received the gift of my emotions flowing over and together we created a perfect circle of gratitude.

"Don't make me cry,"  I warned him, the chocolate bar a solid weight in my hands.

He laughed. "It's easy to make you smile. It's nice to know, I can make you cry too."

"I really appreciate your generosity," I told him before walking away to continue showing my guest the shelter. And as I walked away, I felt warm with the knowing that two human beings had touched and connected through gratitude. I felt my heart expanding, my spirit lifting.

I have been grumbling about some of the things that have been transpiring since I announced my resignation from the shelter. Oh, not overtly of course. Now why would I be open and honest and transparent?

Nope. I've been doing the manipulative, underhanded kind of grumbling that doesn't sit well with anyone, especially me.

It's time to stop. To give it up and to be... Thankful.

I have had almost six years working in this amazing place. Six years to give and receive the gift of my humanity.  It is not up to me to dictate, direct or determine what happens next in that environment.

It is up to me to take care of the 3Ds in my own life. Here and now.

And allowing feelings of less than and dissatisfaction determine my worth does not serve me well. It does not create more of what I want in my life.

Bless them. Forgive me.

My stated purpose in the world is to:  create joy in an enlightened world.

I cannot create joy if I am holding onto resentments, or feelings of discontent.

I cannot responsibly live on purpose when I am living from a place of lack filled with criticism, condemnation and complaints.

Bless them. Forgive me.

My heart is grateful this morning.

My spirit light.

Sure, I know I'll probably have moments of angst, of wondering what the heck is going on. I'll probably even forget myself and grumble about something that will not sit well within me.

And I know, that no matter what, when I let go of the critic and fall in Love with gratitude, I will be living on purpose, responsible for me, myself and I. Taking action to create more of what I want in my life.

It is my choice. My gift to give and receive.

I am responsible for living on purpose.

Bless them. Forgive me.

I am filled with grace.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Plant Lady

It's the little things you do that make the big things happen. Mike Dooley
A year and a half ago a friend called me in distress. The 27 year-old woman who was renting one of the condo's she owns had committed suicide.
My friend needed help. Overwhelmed by the process of organizing with the young woman's sister for the removal of items the sister wanted -- that she would take back east -- my girlfriend was at her wits end as to what to do with the remaining items. "I called the shelter to come pick everything up," she said, "but there was a mix-up and now, I have to get it out of there so the painters can get to work and I don't know what to do."
Not to worry, I told her. I'd get my daughter and her boyfriend to come over with his pick-up truck and take away whatever was there. We can put it in the garage until you figure out what you want to do with it.
And that is how my bedroom came to be filled with beautiful plants.

That is is how I came to remember the joy in caring and tending for houseplants. And the gifts of life growing and blossoming everywhere around me.

Before my daughters were born I loved cultivating houseplants. My home was filled with greenery. I treasured their beauty and revelled in the joy of greenery all around.

And then... life got busy. Two daughters eighteen months apart. A dog. Two cats. A husband who wanted to keep climbing and skiing and back-country escapading every weekend. Working full-time. Writing. Entertaining (at the time I also hosted a cooking show on local TV as well as ran a cooking school with a girlfriend) Training for a marathon. It all got overwhelming.

Something had to give. It was my plants that gave. Up. They couldn't water themselves. They couldn't clip and prune and fertilize their leaves. They had to go.

And gradually. One by one. They went. Some went of natural causes (perhaps hurried along by lack of love and attention). Others found new homes but eventually there was not a living bit of greenery in my home. I did buy a few stalks of the silk variety -- but they never really made the grade and were reminders of my failed horticultural history. The silk plants went too.

And always, I missed my plants. Felt guilty for having given them up. And always, I told myself... I don't do plants. If they can't feed and water themselves, I don't do plants.

And then, my girlfriend asked for help and in that act of giving, I received a gift of life.  I went to the condo with my daughter and her boyfriend and there was this big box of plants sitting on the kitchen counter with a note: Looking for a home -- and I wondered, can I? Should I? What if...?

 I gave them a home. And they have given me so much more.

I never met the woman who rented the condo and ended her own life so abruptly. I never met her sister who swept in, and swept out the condo leaving behind these precious pots filled with life. 

But I know the woman. I know this woman who couldn't keep living. She is here. In my room. She lives in each precious pot of greenery that graces the bay window by my bed. She is in the Begonia by the kitchen window. The Aloe hanging above the sink.

I couldn't let these plants die. I can't. I nurture them and water them and fertilize them and clean their leaves. I talk to them. I open the blinds every morning and invite the sun to stream in and inspire photosynthesis to take place. I invite the air to breathe into their leaves. For the process of respiration/expiration to transform the air I breathe.

And now, my plants are blossoming. Little flowers are appearing. Shoots giving off life. There is magic and wonder and beauty all around.

And in the gift of these plants, I have received many more gifts. A woman who was losing her home, whom I'd gone to see to give her cat food for her kitties, gifted me with a plant. "Please take this plant," she said. "I don't know where I'm going but I'd like to think the plant is safe with you." My sister and her husband bequeathed me a couple more. The ficus in my home office came from a doctor who was retiring and had no room to take his treasured ficus home.

I am becoming surrounded by greenery, by life breathing life into the air. I am becoming.... The Plant Lady! and I am happy! :)

It was just a little thing -- to rescue a few plants. It has grown into so much more.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Red and Blue Polka Dots (a poem)

This morning, over at Maureen Doallas', Writing Without Paper, she shares the poetry and voice of Texas Poet Laureate, David M. Parsons.  One of the poems Maureen shares is Parson's, The Color of Mourning. Reading this powerful and heart-breaking poem, I let my muse wander into that place that connects me to the collective flow of creativity all around.

Now, the deal is.... when I lay in bed this morning in that place where being awake stretches back into dreaming trying to hold onto that one thought that shimmered in the pre-dawn light, I saw 'a truth' floating through my mind. It was one of those singular thoughts of such beautiful and exquisite clarity I almost leapt out of bed and started dancing -- but C.C. and Ellie might have jerked awake somewhat consternated! So I lay there and let the thought expand into view with the gentleness of a moonbeam lighting the night casting a warm golden glow on my heart.

And then, I read Maureen's blog and Parsons' poem and that one thought exploded into words and I wrote it out and knew -- I am ok.

Actually, I'm beyond ok, I am filled with wonder! I am a magnificent being of light and love. I am powerful beyond my wildest imaginings.

From a wide-eyed child of five who saw the wonder in everything, to hiding my light beneath the fear that it was all my fault things happened the way they did in the world, to knowing -- it's not about fault or blame or shame, it's always, always about living from the heart, wild and free and loving and caring and being kind. It's always about being my most amazing, incredible, magnificent self creating a world of wonder, seeing the beauty in everything and everyone because I know... no matter what happens in the world, I am safe when I stand, In Love, with me, myself and I and the world around me.  We all are.

I am blessed.

My life is richer than I ever imagined. My world filled with more love and joy than I ever thought possible. But then, love is limitless and joy is all around.

I am blessed.

David M. Parsons' poem, The Color of Mourning can be found online at Ampersand Poetry Journal -- it is  about a yellow dress -- his words inspired me to write about a white with red polka dot dress.

Red and Blue Polka Dots

She wore a white polka-dot dress
the day she began searching for
the reason why
she had to say thank you
no matter what anyone did

The dots were red. Her sister's blue
they always dressed the same

those two, everyone said
they're so different
no matter the shade
of red and blue

her sister wasn't there
that day
she was the older one and no one
thought to make her quit
in her blue polka-dot dress

but she was so little
she cried and said I'm tired
and the party revolved around the room
and she felt hot and sickly

her mother said
go home with your uncle

he is so kind
to leave the party just for you

and don't forget
to say thank you

and she didn't

it would be many years
before she understood
the one

there is no one

she did the things she did
that hurt her

and it would be many years
before she understood
why her mother said
thank you
to the man
who used his hands the way he did.

Listen to a reading: Audio Recording on Monday evening Red and Blue Polka Dots by Louiseg88

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Human Voice Project

Things don't go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.   Samuel Johnson 
Yesterday, I attended the launch of a brand new project by the Calgary Centre for Global Community (CGCC).  The Human Voice Project

Last October (2010), Alexis, my eldest daughter nominated me to be one of the story-tellers in the project. I was selected and a few months later the amazing Julie Hdrilcka, Project Coordinator of the Human Voice Project, dropped by for an evening to engage Alexis and me in appreciative inquiry. Julie recorded the 2 hours of conversation and... my voice was added to the project mix. 

Distilling 2+ hours of conversation from each of 13 story-tellers is a herculean task, and yet, Julie has done so. And in her doing, has created memorable and inspiring stories from ordinary people living, what the projects describes as, extraordinary lives. For the next two weeks, the stories can only be heard at Endeavor Arts Gallery and Event Space in Calgary. After December 2 when the exhibit ends, the stories can be heard online at CGCC.

I am honoured to be one of the 13. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to have lived through dark times so that through living my life with a grateful and loving heart, I can be for my daughters a light of hope, of truth, of inspiration.

My heart is grateful.

Eight+ years ago, when I awoke from the horror of a relationship that was killing me, I was broken. In my brokenness, I found my heart. 

A broken heart is an open heart and an open heart is a loving heart.

Life is filled with turmoil. It is filled with bliss. It is filled with sorrow and joy, hardship and good times, challenges and grace.

Life is a series of exquisite moments linked together like pearls on a string, each one reflecting the beauty of the next. One pearl has a soft glow. Strung together, each pearl casts a beautiful radiance filled with grace upon the next.

I am blessed.

I have experienced good times. I have experienced hard times. Hard times are like a grain of sand. In a bitter heart hard times calcify and become deformed. In a loving heart, they become transformed into pearls of wonder.

Hard times are not meant to be left to grate upon our hearts, they are meant to be consumed in love. 

With my heart full of gratitude and love, my life radiates like a string of pearls. Each moment casting a glow of love and joy and laughter and beauty onto the next.

I am grateful for the hard times that have transformed my heart into a place of love.

Yesterday, I was honoured to be part of the launch of The Human Voices Project. C.C., my daughter Liseanne (Alexis is in Vancouver) and her boyfriend Ryan stood with me and celebrated this amazing project and the people who created it. They have added grace and light to our city.  

I am grateful to include my voice with the stories of others. Together, we become a living necklace of people celebrating life in the wonder of our human condition, sharing our stories so that others can share theirs too.


This is the video that explains the Human Voice Project

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sharing Love: I am grateful.

I have a grateful heart this morning. A grateful heart and peaceful soul. A spirit that feels light. Light as air. Light as my being who I am.

Yesterday was a day of wonder. It began early with an 8am speak on behalf of the United Way of Calgary. And I was grateful to have an opportunity to explore what it means to be human, regardless of our condition. Homeless. Housed. Addict. Sober. It didn't matter as the audience and I shared stories of the people who live at the shelter and carry the label that holds them down, homeless. In our sharing, in our connecting to explore how United we can make a difference, possibility for change opened up and we saw hope, and promise, all around.

The United Way campaign slogan this year is "Change Starts Here".

And it does. Right here. Right now. Within me rippling out into the world -- and in that change, I have a choice. To create Discord. To create Harmony. To Hate. or, To Love.

Which do I choose?

Yesterday, as I shared my story at TEDxCalgary, I had many choices to make. I could arrive on time, as requested at 10:30 or be late. I hadn't planned on being there by 10:30. I had planned on being there closer to 11:30.

I chose to be on time.

Doing it to my agenda would have undermined the hard work of the organizers in creating this amazing event. It would have been disrespectful. Being late would have created angst in the organizers at a time when they did not need any additional angst. It would have said -- I don't care about you. I have my own agenda.

Being late would have created Discord. I chose Harmony and felt better within me.

As I listened to the other speakers before me, I had the choice of paying attention, or sitting within myself, stewing and fretting about my own speak.

I chose to listen. I chose to breathe into what they shared, and as I listened to share with them my attention, my appreciation and my gratitude for the wisdom they offered so generously. And I was blessed with their words, their spirits, their passion.

Being in the moment creates greater harmony in my life than keeping myself separate, selfishly focusing on my needs, my wants, my gotta haves.

I like Harmony. It fits.

Throughout the day people kept asking, 'Are you nervous?'

And I suppose I was. OK, so I know I was. There is something about the name "TED", the knowing this event was connected to this huge movement of people sharing their excellence.

I didn't like the pressure in that knowing, in that thinking that this talk was more than just... this talk. This moment to share my hope, my strength, my gratitude with people who were there to share in this moment, right now.

When I focus on 'the concept' of what this day could mean because it is about something bigger, out there, beyond the confines of the beautiful Calgary Folk Festival, Festival Hall, where we were gathered, I lose the essence of being right there, in the moment, sharing where I'm at, in Love.

And so, I chose to let go of my 'nerviness' fluttering in my stomach like a butterfly flitting amidst a garden of opportunity, undecided as to which flower to settle into. I chose to settle into me and simply be, present. Grateful for the moment to listen and share, to touch and be touched by people's hearts, to open up to the wonder and beauty that is our shared condition of being human.

And in the choice to be present, harmony was restored.

I shared my story yesterday at TEDxCalgary -- I shared my Lessons in Love: How volunteering saved my life.

And when I stepped off the stage I knew I had done my best. I had shared from my heart to touch others and I was touched by their attention, their openness and their willingness to be present. And I was grateful.

Sure, I forgot components. Even forgot my closing which was the story of how we are all magnificent.

But... sometimes, the things we forget are the things we do not need to say. As I spoke I imagined my Love embracing everyone. I imagined they could see their magnificence reflected back through my eyes seeing the beauty of their hearts opening up like beautiful flowers for Love to settle into.

And as I held out my Love, we connected and we smiled, heart to heart.

It was a good day yesterday. Amazing speakers. Wonderful stories. Beautiful people joining together to share in what it is that makes this world, this amazing, complex, messed up, mixed up, upside down planet called Earth such an incredible space to be -- PEOPLE.

One of the presenters, the incredible Dan Meades from Vibrant Communities Calgary said [and this is my paraphrasing of what I heard] -- other than mother nature, we are the people who have created everything built on earth. If we don't like what we've built, it's up to us to change it.

We are the people doing the deeds we don't like. We are the one's creating discord. Creating war and hatred and violence and abuse. We are the ones doing all the things we do to tear down, pull apart, rip up the beauty of this world and turn it into something we never imagined would be the outcome of our deeds. it isn't him doing it, or her, or them, not us. It is us. We the people. Making choices everyday to create what we do not want in this world.

We can make different choices.

Change Starts Here.

We can choose Harmony.

We can choose Peace.

We can choose Love.

Let's do it!

Right now.


Friday, November 18, 2011


Smile, breathe and go slowly.
 Thich Nhat Hanh 
It is fitting that Thich Nhat Hanh should be the quote that arrived in my Inbox this morning as my Daily Inspirational Quote.  

It is fitting, comforting and inspiring!

It is what I need.

The beautiful reminder to--  Smile, breathe and go slowly today when I present at TEDxCalgary (I speak at 4pm MST btw -- and it can be live streamed at the TEDxCalgary website beginning at noon.

Last night, the speakers and organizers met for a dinner at a local Mediterranean restaurant, AIDA's. The conversation was lively, the meal delicious and the opportunity to meet fellow presenters and the rest of the amazing TEDxCalgary team was wonderful.

And when I left the restaurant light fluffy snow was drifting down through the night sky. The world had a quiet feeling to it. Quiet and serene and gentle.

It was perfect.

Before I went to the dinner I took Ellie for her customary evening walk along the ridge of the reservoir. It was chilly. The air crisp, the sky darkening. The days are getting shorter and evening comes early now. A sheen of ice is beginning to form on the surface of the water, moving in from the edges, in towards the centre where deep water moves ever more slowly every day.

We walked quickly, the cold air buffeting my face. The breeze flirting with the tendrils of hair that escaped from beneath my hat. I could feel the bite of the wind against my skin but Ellie didn't care. She was outside experiencing the big wide world beyond the confines of the backyard.

She was happy.

She was even happier when we met a couple we often see on our walks. She bounded over to greet them, dragging me by the leash. She whined and squirmed and leaned into their legs and they laughed and she squirmed some more and they pet her and made a fuss and she squirmed and whined and pushed her head into their hands and life was beautiful and grand and filled with laughter and joy and love and we all shared a joke about how she sure knows how to make people feel welcome and they invited her home with them as they always do and I laughed and said but will you feed her steak and lobster and they laughed and said of course as they always do and I asked if they'd let her sleep on their bed and they replied as they always do oh no there's no room with our two cats taking up all the room oh too bad I replied as I always do and we bid our farewells and Ellie and I continued on in the opposite direction and they continued on and we were all smiling as we parted, as we always are after an encounter of the Ellie kind.

It was a perfect moment.

Especially for Ellie.

She is a con artist, this pooch of mine. She doesn't do it to everyone the --- oh pet me please I don't get any attention at home and they never even give me steak and lobster and I'm just a poor misunderstood hound --kind of behaviour.

Oh no. She's discerning. She knows who will give her the most attention and she recognizes them everytime we are out.

I love her for it. For in her enthusiasm I am reminded to stop and 'see' someone else -- just for the fun of it. To connect with someone else along the path and share that most vital of heart connections -- a smile. 

Smile, guides Thich Nhat Hanh

and I will.

Begin with a smile. And I shall, breathe and go slowly.

Whether on stage sharing my 'hope, strength and experience' as they say in AlAnon or simply living at centre stage of my own life where I am meant to be, when I smile, breathe and go slowly life is filled with all the wonder of the world unfolding on my road of life.

and now... to figure out what I'm going to wear. But first, I must run and give a speak on behalf of the United Way of Calgary and the work we do at the shelter where I work. And as I speak, I shall remember to.... Smile, breathe and go slowly throughout my day.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

What do I fear?

It was repeated several times at meditation last night. The last lines from Marianne Williamson's oft quoted piece, Our Deepest Fear (A Return to Love)  

"...And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

The conversation after the session drifted in and out of talk of love, of fear, of letting go. We touched on us and them and the other and the same. 

 And the question of 'What do I fear?" drifted into the emptiness of my mind in stillness. 

 What do I fear? Good question. 

 I fear feeling insignificant. I fear being ridiculed. 

Do I?

 I fear... And I hesitate. No words rise through the darkness that appears when I think of fear.

I dislike cruelty. Posturing. Abuse. I do not fear them.

 I dislike people being unkind. Bullies. I dislike seeing animals mistreated. Children starving. There is much that I dislike. Much I find distasteful. 

 But what do I fear? 

 I fear feeling small. 

 And if I take off the last qualifier, I become my fear of feeling. 

I fear feeling.

Cut back to the bone, strip away the skin, peel back the sinew and the veins and I find myself amidst the skeletal remains of my fear of being -- nothing. Cut out the tissue. Skim off the blood and get to the guts of what I fear.

 What is it? 

 What is my biggest fear?

 Not being loved. Not knowing love? Losing love? 

 But love is limitless.

 Love exists 
as only love.
 Love is.

I am afraid 
of losing
I fear
 the ones I love
 the things I love
 I am afraid. 

 But I cannot lose Love so I cannot fear losing the one's I love for even when they are gone, love continues, love exists, Love is. Infinite. Limitless. All.

 There is nothing
 to fear 
for Love is
no matter 
what fear
to hold me
where I feel

 I cannot separate Love with fear. I cannot divide it with 3 parts fear one part avoidance.

 Love can
 never be

 Love is
 and there is 
to fear
Love is

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How volunteering saved my life (an overview)

The title of my TEDxCalgary talk is:  Lessons In Love:  How volunteering saved my life.

As the theme for the day is Volunteer -- even better, I wanted my talk to enhance the 'day' while also speaking to my healing journey and the power volunteering played in my recovering my joy, wonder and love of life.

I thought I'd give you an idea of what I'm speaking to -- and if anyone has comments, suggestions ideas... oh dear, it's getting kind of late :)  -- but seriously -- I'm open to suggestions to make it more powerful!  though I have to send my presentation off today.  

Last night a friend came over and worked through it with me, giving me guidance on where he felt I could strengthen the story.

He began with my opening. "you know Louise, you lose me when you step out of 'your story' into stories about other people at the shelter. Sure, you were part of that story, but I miss the passion of your 'I'."

Hmmm... a life lesson there for sure. When I'm messing around in someone else's story, I'm losing the passion of mine.

I went back to the beginning and shared with him my original -- my very first concept -- for the opening that I had begun with weeks ago when I started working on the presentation.

Love it, he said. You held me captive throughout the entire talk.

Ok -- so note to self -- listen to self.  (And yes, Alyssa, my gut talks too and sometimes, I fill it up with other stuff until I have to unearth the essence of what I wanted to create in the first place somewhere beneath all the junk I've piled on top of my intuition.)

So, my story opens...

"I want to paint you a picture. It is a beautiful May morning. The sun is just beginning to rise above the waters beside which I stand. Red and rosy hues cast beautiful reflections upon the rippling surface of the water. Birds chirp and chitter in the trees. A woodduck pops its head in and out of the opening to the hole where it's built a nest inside a tree. The breeze is warm already, caressing my skin gently. All around me beauty awakens in the gift of a new day dawning.

And I am deaf and blind to the world around me. I cannot see the promise of this day. I cannot feel the hope of a new day rising.

I want to die. I want to cast my body from the shore. Thrust it into the waters and sink into the muck and mire of the mud below. I want to cast myself adrift and float upon the water, out into the sea, out into the nothing far beyond the shore.

I want to die.

That was the morning of May 21, 2003, moments before a miracle drove up in a blue and white police car and rescued me from the horror of an abusive relationship that had ripped my world apart and taken me far from the one's I loved...."

I then go on to tell of awakening from that horror and choosing to begin the journey back to myself. One of the first things I did was begin to volunteer. And I share that experience and many others since that May morning, to show how volunteering saved my life.

The lessons I share are:

Miracles are a gift. Celebrate them with joy.
When you believe you have nothing to give, start giving.
  When you believe you have nothing left to give, keep giving.
Give. In giving we receive.
Volunteering is not about good deeds. Volunteering is about Love.
Sometimes, all we need to connect heart to heart is a smile.
Loving another begins with loving myself.
Love has no motive.
Love is all there is to hold onto.

With each lesson I share a volunteer experience and what I received in return for giving from my heart -- from helping make sandwiches for the lost souls in Vancouver's east side, to managing an online forum for victims of abuse to coaching at Choices and creating an art program at the homeless shelter -- volunteering is the conduit that lead me back home to myself. 

And I end with:

"Volunteering saved my life. it made a difference in my world and continues to do so everyday. And in that difference, its ripples move out and change the world -- where once I wanted to cast my body into the waters and change the course of my life on earth -- the volunteer ripples I have created have connected me to the human condition in which we all flow and in that flow, I have found myself in Love. Because in the end, Love is all there is to hold onto."

So.... that's where it's at. 

and I'm still breathing :).

Thanks by the way, to those who posted yesterday with words of encouragement and love and ideas and support. Your volunteering of yourselves creates a beautiful ripple of love flowing all around me.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gotta fly!

The only way to get positive feelings about yourself is to take positive actions. Man does not live as he thinks, he thinks as he lives.  Vaughan Quinn

I am in the thick of preparing my speak for Friday at TEDxCalgary.

Now, I sent it off yesterday to the organizers, went through it last night with my eldest daughter on SKYPE and of course, her brilliance has shifted my thinking on what and how I deliver it.

Which means -- I'm under the gun of creative process. Tweaking. Rewriting. Reworking. Rejigging something that should be done by now...

But then... The Land of Compulsiveness is not a foreign shore. It is familiar turf and I tread heavily on its rocky terrain.

And that's ok.

I just need to 'get it right'  :)

I know. I know.  No such thing as 'perfect'. But near perfection. Ahhh, now that's another matter.

In the interim. I'm going to be posting short -- can you believe it! SHORT!

Mostly quotes and random thoughts.

I'll call it, my week of random thinking.

gotta go. I'm up in the middle of the night for a reason! Gotta craft words while the moon shines.

Though seriously -- there's not much moonlight tonight as it's rather cloudy out there. Snowed last night. Not a lot but enough to remind me... winter is on the wing.

Must fly!

Wishing you an inspired day of putting action to your thoughts and living with intention.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Beauty of the Moment

I spent the weekend coaching at Givers 2, the final weekend segment of the Choices program. On Saturday night, there was a 'Christmas' dinner for those who serve regularly on the team. After dinner we sat in a circle and Thelma Box, the founder and facilitator of Choices, invited everyone to answer one question -- What have I learned this year -- specifically from my Choices experience?

We went around the circle, one by one, and each person shared an important learning from their experiences at Choices that year.

Thelma was last to speak. She shared her learning about loss, and the importance of  treasuring 'beautiful moments'.

As she spoke, I imagined beautiful pearls being strung together into the circle that is her life. Each pearl represented a moment worth treasuring -- and her necklace was full and heavy for every moment is worth treasuring. And yet, sometimes, we miss so many moments of beauty, she reminded us.

"If I had known the last dirty diaper was the last one I would change, I would have seen the beauty in that diaper," she said.

There is beauty in every moment. If we knew that this was our last moment to treasure, how would we see it?

From where I sit in the living room typing on my keyboard , I can see the sun lighting the tops of the trees just outside the window. My paintings cover the walls surroundins me, their vibrant colours the expression of my creative core that I have cast upon the canvas. The deep wood of the piano glows in the soft light, the maple of the dining room table gleams, its surface reflecting the pink and white of a bowl of roses I've placed there. Mark Bordino strums his classical guitar softly in the background to the quiet hum of the motor of my laptop. I am surrounded by softness, light, colour, gleaming wood and the deep rusts and reds of the furniture in the room. I am surrounded by beauty.

If this were my last moment, this is what I would see.

But it's not and I continue typing, grateful for the time it took to appreciate the beauty all around me.

When my father had a heart attack in 1995, we had two days to reach his bedside and say good-bye. When my brother and his wife were killed in a car accident one and a half years later, we never had the chance to say fare-thee-well. We didn't know our last conversationn would be the last. In that fatal crash, all we could do was gather together with the people they knew and share in the memories of everyone who came to their funerals. In those memories of strangers, I saw a side of my brother I didn't know. A man who was a good friend, a generous neighbour, a caring father. Through their eyes I saw the beauty of my brother and was reminded that I was blessed to have called him brother.

We do not know what the next moment will bring, which is why it is so important to see the beauty in this moment right now as we experience it.

I was reminded of that this weekend at Choices. Surrounded by people striving to be their best, I saw the human spirit rising. I saw the beauty of each soul shining. I saw tears and laughter, fear and courage walking side by side. And in their path, I saw beauty embracing the beast. I saw Love all around.


Friday, November 11, 2011

In their sacrifice, I am free.

My father seldom spoke about 'the war' except to share some arcane fact or information. Like, how to create a glass out of an empty bottle, or how to use sand to brush your teeth.

And while I was fascinated to learn that a string dipped in gasoline, tied around the neck of a bottle will cause the neck to break off cleanly when the string is lit, I always wanted more.  I wanted to see the path where the fire burned. I wanted to see his wounds. To feel his heart beat. To know his soul.

It was a lifelong struggle between my father and me. I wanted to see his wounds. He wanted to hide them. Not the physical wounds of battle.  He didn't carry any physical signs of his years in 'the war'. But inside, inside there was some deep, dark place where I believed, in my arrogant youth, that if he just let me touch it, I could heal his heart, stem the flow of anger that would sometimes erupt with the velocity of Vesuvius venting steam and in my healing hands, peace would be created in the world.

My father was an airman during the war. Lied about his age so he could sign up. Ran away from Canada to Britain, the land of his birth, to join the RAF. He served in North Africa. Became a cook. Was a sergeant when the war ended. And from there, the trail grows cold.

My father was a man of far ranging interests. A voracious reader, he wrote beautiful poetic verse and love poems to my mother. I found them once, those poems he'd written to my mother. I found them and I read them and I remember feeling confused. Who was this man of such sweet words who in real life scared me with his anger?

The image I had of my father in my mind was far different than the one I found upon the page. In real life my father was an enigma. On the page, he was vibrant and loving and so romantic. I imagined him lying under the dome of a khaki tent, sand filtering through the cracks, the desert wind blowing through his thick black hair. He lay on his cot, the stars a glittering blanket above him as he wrote words of love to my mother. In other images I pictured him lying on his bunk in a hut heated by an oil stove that clanged throughout the night. In that story he was somewhere just south of the North Pole, a place where he spent a great deal of time when I was a little girl. I used to wonder if he ever saw Santa, but my father would never tell. My father kept secrets.

I wasn't as good at secret keeping. When I found the cloth covered heart shaped box that had once held chocolates filled with love letters and poems, I couldn't believe the treasure I had uncovered. I couldn't keep the secret of my find and told my sister, I even recall taking those letters to school to share as part of a writing exercise in class. I also remember getting in trouble for spying, for prying, for sharing. 

I hadn't meant to pry or spy. I just wanted to know my father. I wanted to believe he wasn't scary or angry or silent. And those letters proved it. And I wanted the world to know how amazing my father really was. And so, I shared what little I had found of him to prove he wasn't the dark, brooding man he portrayed to the world.

Along with his words, my father was also a photographer. During the war he took photos constantly, but they were lost, he told me once, when the boat they were on was torpedoed and sunk. He was supposed to have been on that ship, he said, but fate stepped in and postponed his deployment because he was needed still in North Africa. His best friend was there though. They'd said good-bye somewhere in the desert and his friend had ridden off on a truck, never to be seen again.

And that was the end of the story.

That was the thing about my father. He would share little bits and pieces and then fall into silence. I didn't like the silent bits of the story. I wanted the words and so I poked and prodded and asked for more and then my father would erupt and I would scurry to my room, frightened of the beast I had awoken with my constant need to know the ending of the story.

There is no end to war, my father would say, and I would sigh sadly wishing I could show him somehow that there was. But I could never break through the silence that enshrouded his heart, no matter how hard I tried and how many questions I asked.

It was in my father's silence that I learned the most. His silence taught me not to be afraid to ask, to seek, to want to know, to search for answers. In his silence, I discovered the place where truth lives. In his silence I learned there are no answers 'out there' that will ever feed my constant yearning for more within. To soothe my yearning to know my father, I must slip between the words, open up the silence between the gaps and listen. Deeply. There are many gifts in the silence. Truth. Beauty. Honesty. And always, the story that never ends. The story of Love.

I am grateful to my father. This man of mercurial moods and deep intellect and a sometimes whimsical nature. A man who when he saw a beautiful sunrise would wake us up to see it too. A man who loved music and books and food and walking. A man who cooked to express his love, who took me on walks along the Rhine and through the hills and dales of the Black Forest just because he wanted to share his joy in the beauty all around. A man who always believed there was more for me in the world than I could ever imagine.

He was right. There is more in this world for me to experience and live and know and cherish than I can ever imagine.

My father fought his entire life for me to know that and I am grateful. .

My father has passed away and in his passing I am grateful for his undying belief in my right to live my life in freedom. I am grateful for the sacrifices of those who fought and never returned. For those who fought and came home wounded, their bodies shattered. And, I am grateful for those who returned with wounds no one could see and who still fought every day to be free. Like my father, their wounds were carried with them to their graves. And still, in the silence of this Remembrance Day, I see the truth in the sacrifices they made as they fought their way through life.

We come into this world through an act of love. We leave it with the only thing we can carry.  And in our passing from this world we leave behind the one thing that never dies, the one thing that can never be perverted. Love.

It is Remembrance Day. I am grateful for the men and women whose sacrifices make it possible for all of us to live freely in Love.