Archives for the month of: April, 2020

One thing I try to practice is keeping a gratitude journal. Years ago, I found a little hard cover book (if you saw it on a shelf, you’d think it was a novel) with the title, “The Heart Talks”, that I write in regularly. During this pandemic I have found it especially important for me to consider the things for which I’m thankful. I think that’s why I really appreciate John Krasinski’s Some Good News or SGN show that he’s doing from his home. So, here’s SGN from my world, including The Dale front.

On a recent Thursday, a person came to get a bagged breakfast from us. While a good size meal- it included a fried egg and bacon English muffin sandwich, one banana, one tomato, a yogurt cup, a granola bar and a cookie- it was definitely made for one person. Joanna later discovered our friend sharing this breakfast with two other people, all three of whom are living outside. Fortunately we had more food to share, but felt extremely moved by this example of generosity.

A couple who live close by and are currently unemployed due to COVID, have volunteered to make deliveries of groceries and prepared meals to community members every Monday. Thank you, Sheila and Ross! On top of this, Sheila is making and selling earrings, the proceeds of which go to The Dale (message me if you are interested).

There is a boy, I would guess 10 years old, who I see walking nearly every morning now as I leave to go to work. He is ALWAYS singing. He seems happily in his own world, quietly singing made up songs for his own enjoyment. Without knowing it, he helps me start the day with a smile.

A Dale friend has started to make the most amazing sculptures out of plastic cutlery. I don’t think this picture does them justice, but if you look closely you will see an intricate dinosaur and another animal. This person is gentle, quiet, creative, and resilient. If you notice him panning in Parkdale, please offer some support.

Our daughter Cate is perennially optimistic, and this is no different right now. Not that there haven’t been moments of sadness over things lost- there have been. It’s just that Cate finds things to celebrate: building a fort in her room, watching a movie projected on a sheet, painting watercolour postcards, getting all of her laundry done. Cate’s genuine zeal for life is something I am thankful for.

I am grateful for food to distribute, and a place to have people safely line up to get it. I am grateful for the conversations we can have, even two metres apart.

As some might recall, we had to do a major renovation in order to make our home accessible for Dion. It was completed last year. Over the course of all that work our little front yard took a major beating, so much so I would have been surprised if anything sprung up out of the ground this spring. There is a solitary tulip that is pushing its way through the ground right now. Something about that gives me hope. Things might be upside-down, and yet there is new life pulsating out of it.

Some good news.

Back before I was a mother (my daughter is now 17) I worked at Sanctuary, a place that I often refer to as a sibling of The Dale. Sanctuary was formative for me, its fingerprints all over my life in ministry. It was the place that had me committing to community where people who are typically marginalized are instead placed at the core.

Over this Easter weekend Sanctuary had three of its people die, two of whom I knew. This on the heel of multiple other deaths. Over at The Dale we held five memorials from December until just mid-January, almost all of which were on Wednesdays at 1 pm. Near the end of that stretch I almost couldn’t bear the thought of leading another service. Our friends working in Harm Reduction see an astonishing loss of life all the time. Oh death, where is your sting? Well, one of the places is the street.

The sorrow is heavy. The scary thing is that there is very little room for the processing of grief. There is no space for a breath between bereavements. On top of it all is what I would call anticipatory grief, the kind that exists when we come to expect and brace for the next tragedy. I worry for our communities (and myself) in this. In fact, it’s something I think about a lot.

My most recent work in therapy has been largely related to the death of my mother. Without even realizing it, I was living in quiet protest of her being gone. Her absence felt so unreal that I was allowing myself to be numbed by it. Slowly I have been emerging from that, a process that is enabling me to sit in the sadness AND celebrate what an amazing mom I had. Elaine will never not be my mother. This is true too of my dad. Similarly, the friends that I have lost over the years will never stop being important pieces of my life.

Talking about death can be very uncomfortable. It often brings up the reality of our own mortality. It is confusing and, until it happens to us, impossible to understand. My mother taught me a lot about clinging to hope in both life and death. It wasn’t that she lived without any fear of death, it was that she never let it control her. Instead, she readied herself to be free.

I believe that our friends are now free. Do I wish there were still here? Yes. Can I wait for the day that death is put to death? I will, but it can hurry up already. Somehow, I am not devoid of hope, in fact I remain resolute in my belief that light will overcome the darkness. And, I stand in solidarity with Sanctuary and other front-line communities in collective grief and lament.

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
And I say to my heart: rave on.

-Mary Oliver

One of the things my daughter Cate and her youth group practice when they meet (now on Zoom) is each sharing a thorn and a rose from their week, in other words something difficult and something good. As I left the room during their meeting last night, I began to reflect on my own thorns and roses from the last few weeks.

Thorn: Dion was hospitalized in mid-March. His PSW arrived in the morning to discover that he had a fever and could not move. She called 911. The paramedics arrived in full protective equipment because of the risk of COVID-19. Dion was admitted to hospital and Cate and I had to stay home.

Rose: The Emergency Room was nearly empty upon Dion’s arrival and he was immediately seen. He was able to be properly isolated and eventually tested negative for COVID-19. After significant rest and antibiotics for an infection, Dion has recovered.

Thorn: The Dale is a community that is accustomed to spending time together. We like to hug. We want for those who are too accustomed to being in the margins to be brought to the centre. This virus has taken away the opportunity to gather, to embrace one another, and is making already vulnerable people even more vulnerable.

Rose: The Dale is still operating. We are doing take-away meals which allows us to 1) address food security and 2) briefly connect with our community. We are making phone calls and doing door-step drop-offs of groceries and supplies. Our love for everyone needs to be expressed differently, and we’re trying to do that.

Thorn: There are not enough shelter beds for people who are homeless. There are few places to properly isolate if you have symptoms or test positive. Just check out the number of tents that are being used around the city- each tent is a reminder that there is a serious lack of housing here.

Rose: This one is hard, because not enough has changed. BUT I am heartened by the growing movement of people who are petitioning that more things be done. I also know a lot of people working very hard in shelters, on the street, and in harm reduction. It takes a village, and we have a great one.

Thorn: Cate is in her senior year of high school. Yesterday would have been closing night of her last school musical and the cast party. The loss of that experience, along with so many potential others, is sad.

Rose: Cate is scrapbooking and making art. She is baking and cooking. She’s having a hard time getting to sleep, but it’s not fear keeping her awake, it’s all the plans she is making.

Thorn: I am tired. Not, I need another nap tired. It’s more of an emotional and mental fatigue. Life at The Dale is intense. I know it carries risk. The administrative part of my role has not stopped, and if anything has ramped up. And yet, I can easily feel guilty about the things I am not doing, or the things I have to say no to. For some reason the tears that typically fall easily, have not been coming out.

Rose: My pent-up emotion came out yesterday. I cried a lot. I tried to release the unhelpful guilt. I stayed off the internet and went for a walk with Dion. I ate some of Cate’s baking. Joanna sent me a picture of a crocus that reminded me of the beauty of new life. I prayed, using this from a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

“Lord, help me now to un-clutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord, teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longings I hold inside. Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.”

Though always present, the tension between clutter and simplicity, fear and change, fatigue and creativity, lament and gratitude, has been heightened in this time of crisis. Peace to you all in your own thorns and roses.