Monthly Archives: May 2013

burgers to bunyan

burger
my bus was late as usual.  i regretted running the two and half blocks as i turned the corner to see no bus in sight.  it was good and well that i didn’t miss the bus but getting me to work late was not.  good thing drew, my coworker had things well under control at the group home.

‘sorry for being late,’ i explained as i walked through the door.  ‘i think my bus driver was on sunday afternoon driving mode.’

‘it’s all good.  jack and rebecca (not their real names) are out with family for dinner.  tony is still napping.’

tonight i’m on dinner duty since drew is taking tony through his pre-dinner routine.  homemade burgers and fries are on the menu.  this can either go really well or really, really bad.

pessimistic or just keenly aware of my cooking deficiencies?

lets just say that i don’t think the cooking channel is going to be calling asking me to show the world a thing or two anytime soon. unless it’s to show my famous french toast, and if that’s the case i’m saying ‘no!’

ain’t nobody getting that secret.  i’m taking it to the grave with me.

well, the burgers turn out pretty darn good, i must say.  when jack and rebecca get home they gobble it down and give me the thumbs up.  tony has some too, though a bit differently than the rest of us.

thirty years ago tony was a 35-year-old husband and father to a beautiful wife and daughter with another baby on the way.  goofing around with some buddies on a long weekend, tony accepted a dare to climb a telephone pole.  he hit the wires and fell onto his head.  they saved his life but he would never be the same man again.

after tony came out of a long coma, he had to learn how to walk and communicate again.  he had to have all his food blended up so he could eat.  he had to be helped with going to the bathroom and showering.  his wife couldn’t take care of two children and a husband who needed constant help learning to live with a different rhythm.  he was placed in a large group home before coming to our small options group home.

i take one of the cooked burger patties along with some cheese, fries and ketchup and place them in a food processor.  tony is going to have burgers and fries with us too, a la pureed.

he gives his sign of approval too – a crooked thumbs up and big smile.

maybe that call from the cooking channel will coming afterall.

drew takes rebecca out to grab a coffee while tony and i watch duck dynasty in the living room.  we both laugh and enjoy the silly antics of hillbillies blowing things up and shooting ducks.  if only life were that simple.

the big hockey game comes on.  tony loves hockey so we turn on the game in his room where he can relax and watch it.  equipped with a boost milkshake and a delicious pudding snack, tony watches and cheers as his team kicks butt.

tony wants to get up to go to the bathroom.  i was told to let him get himself up out of his chair.  the more he does it himself the stronger his legs will be.  the whole ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ line of thinking.  it makes sense, only problem is that he doesn’t want to get himself up at times and holds his hand out for help.

‘help up?’  he asks, his words slurred together.

i’ll admit i’m a sucker most of the time.  he probably knows it by now and that’s why he wears that huge grin as he asks me.  maybe he sees ‘sucker’ tattooed on my forehead.

drew leaves early to get to the other group home he works at.  jack and tony are in bed early while rebecca and i watch tv in the living room.  rebecca is a 65 yr old woman with schizophrenia who loves doing crafts, drinking coffee and watching gilmore girls.

apparently i love watching gilmore girls now too.  go figure.

rebecca tells me about the new shoes she got and how much walking she is going to do in them.  two hours a day.  she goes and gets them to show me.  she puts them on and show how she will walk in them.  good form.  i get another compliment on the burgers i made for dinner.

i’m going to milk this accomplishment for a while longer.

11pm comes quickly and my replacement arrives ready to take on the overnight shift.  i say goodnight and run to catch my bus home.  i walk through my front door, drop my keys on the small, white ledge i’ve haphazardly screwed to my old plaster wall, kick my shoes on to the mat in my hallway, and collapse onto my chair in the living room.

i’m tired but happy.

an old quote by john bunyan runs through my mind.

‘you have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’

i’m not sure i necessarily agree with bunyan on this but i’m willing to accept it for tonight.

i lived today 🙂

cool.

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unexpected

so i’m sitting on my couch reading an interesting article on my laptop, legs propped up on my coffee table with a bag of chips well in reach.  sounds nice, eh?  it’s a good friday afternoon.  phone rings and i see a number i don’t recognize.  thinking it might be a potential boss calling me i pick up expecting a business conversation.

wrong.  pleasantly wrong.

‘is this lucas?’

‘yes it is,’ i reply, attempting to sound as polite as i can.

‘hey, its jeff (last name removed).  i’m glad i remembered your number.  wasn’t sure i did.’

i met jeff shortly after i moved to halifax almost 3 years ago.  half a dozen years younger than me and a temper like a hand grenade, jeff was homeless when i met him.  he split his nights between two of the men’s shelters and the out of the cold shelter where i worked.  we got to know each other staying up late watching movies while i worked overnights.  he would usually come in late looking for a bed and some food.  i’d make him some grub and we would talk life while watching old westerns.

classic guy thing to do.  ha!

jeff had a problem saying ‘no’ to the wrong crowd.  instead of turning and walking away, he got sucked into their bad choices while making his own along the way.  it wasn’t long before the law caught up with him and decided he needed to spend some time away from regular society.  at the time i didn’t know where he had gone.  some times guys disappear.  sometimes it’s for the better, other times it’s not.

prison should be a wake up call for people.  some people get it while others find the same bad crowd inside jail that keeps them entrenched in the lifestyle.  i’ve heard my fair share of guys on the street tell me they became better criminals in prison, sharing ‘war stories’ with other inmates, how they deceived, stole, assaulted and ripped off their way to criminal glory.

criminal college – you may have gone in for break and enter but come out slinging crack in the north end to junkies, hookers and weekend warriors.

this is a classic reason why the punitive justice system doesn’t work.  when you simply lock up offenders up behind metal bars, you aren’t doing them or the community at large any benefits.  while others may argue the offender doesn’t deserve anything since they broke the law, it stands to reason that the community would be better served by rehabilitating criminals instead of creating holding pens where they are put on ‘time out’ for a while.

punitive justice makes the prison industry and all those invested in very wealthy while helping very few others.  restorative justice is a different way of thinking about crime and conflict.  a united nations committee on restorative justice defined it in as ‘a process whereby parties with a stake in a particular offence resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future.’  restorative justice is concerned in holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way, repairing the harm caused by the offence, achieving a sense of healing for the victim and the community, and reintegrating the offender back into the community.

sounds better, doesn’t it?

restorative justice.  look into it.

i digress..

unfortunate for jeff, he didn’t get the wake up call the first time to prison.  he kept the same company behind bars as he did when he was free and it only served him poorly when he regained his freedom.  the second go around sounds like it jolted him.

‘i can’t go back to that life, man,’  he says to me. ‘i want to do right by my family and by myself.  i’ve been doing a lot better since i got out but i’m afraid if i don’t do something more i’m going to mess up again.  i need help though..’

i gave jeff my phone number almost 2 years ago after he told me he wanted help.  i offered to talk with him about housing options and health-related resources.

he never did call..

until today.

‘is your offer still on the table?’ he asks me.

‘i never took it off, jeff.’

‘thanks, lucas.  i called hoping you would say that,’ his voice noticeably excited.  ‘i promise i’m ready to take this stuff seriously now.’

‘i hope so.  i’m no savior, though,’ i explain to him. ‘i can help you figure some things out and put a plan together but i’m no miracle worker.’

that’s where you come in, God.

if you’re reading this, please do me a favor and lift up a prayer for jeff.  addictions be broken, past be healed and restoration done.

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changing my perspective

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spring has come and with it the unpredictable weather changes that often leave me wondering what to wear when i leave the house.  if i bring my jacket, the sun pours down its bright, warm rays and i’m sweating large beads of sweat down my face.  if i don’t bring my jacket, the skies open up and the rain soaks me.

it doesn’t seem like a battle i’m soon to win.

yesterday was another one of those days.  i had errands to do and the weather had decided it would not be cooperating with me.  it would rain and then stop and then bluster some wind and mist into my face then stop again.  i cursed the weather underneath my breath (cursing it out loud might look to others as if i was crazy) and told it to seek help for its schizophrenic behavior.

seroquel anyone?

on my way into the bank i noticed an elderly man sitting outside the front doors holding a sign.  his silver metal cane rested against the telephone pole as he sat on what looked like a walker.  his sign had a plastic tupperware bowl taped to it for people to drop some change in.  i read the sign as i reached for the door handle.

‘please help this man in need.’

i nodded his way and he did the same.

‘not the best day for panhandling, hey?’ i asked the man.

‘i’ve seen worst,’ he replied through a bright smile.

i entered the bank and got done what i needed to get done.  as i left the building a couple were just passing by the elderly man and placed some change in his plastic bowl.

‘thank you so much for your kindness,’ he said to them as they hurried onto the cross walk.

i had more errands to run and with little time to get them all done as the work day was winding down.  i could talk with this man for a bit, i told myself, but needed to be on my way soon.

‘how are you doing today?’ i asked him.

‘well,’ he replied, ‘i’ve met some very interesting and generous people today.  it’s made this weather more bearable.’

i asked him about his cane and walker.  he explained that he had been hit by a drunk driver some 30 years ago, which left him crippled and unable to work much.  he told me about the newly graduated engineering students who had hit him head on while he was driving home one night and how he had learned to forgive them for their poor choice to get behind the wheel.

today, he lived in an old van that he plugged into a house to keep himself warm.  he made an agreement with the homeowner to give him money for the electricity that he used.  he spoke about how grateful he was for the relationship he has with this man and how kind he has been to him.

we talked about his travels across canada, his accident, the comforts and discomforts of living in a van, philosophical ideas and food.

‘are you hungry?’ i asked.

‘yes, but i need to make some more money before i can do that.’

‘how about i get us some chicken wraps?’ i offered.

‘why, that would be a fine idea!’

as i started to make my way across the cross walk, he yelled after me, ‘i still don’t know your name.’

‘it’s lucas.’

i returned with a few wraps for him to nibble on and a stuck a small book i had been reading into the bag along with the food.  he thanked me and was very gracious.  i told him that i had more to thank him for than anything else.

he looked puzzled.

‘before i met you today,’ i said, ‘i was having a rather frustrating day.  i was frustrated with the errands i had to run, the limited time i had to do them and the crummy weather i had to do them in.  after talking with you, all that seemed to disappear.  so, thank you.’

he removed the glove from his right hand and we shook hands.

thanks for the conversation, lauren.  i won’t soon forget it.

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good company

bad company corrupts good character.

i often quote to others things that have been true in my own life.  yesterday, quoting the above statement to one of my street brothers was no different.

i got the call just as i was leaving the gym last night.

‘where are you?’

‘just leaving the gym and heading home.’

‘wait!  i’ll be right there.’

i brought t into my home this time last year in order to get his life sorted out.  he has been running from things in his life for too long but not sure how to face them.  i offered him a safe space to stay while he did so.  no more shelter beds, coaching surfing and sleeping rough.

t gives kat and i a big hug when he sees us.  asks to walk with us while we head back to my place for some dinner.  we talk about his new cooking job and other details of his life.  on the surface, things are looking much better than before.

when we get to my apartment, t decides to come in and hang out for a bit.  he pushes us out of the kitchen so he can cook us dinner.  he amazes us both with an incredible meal that i wasn’t even aware i had the ingredients for.  he often did the same when he used to live with me.

we sit in the living room and talk life.  brass tacks sort of talk.  t needs community.  healthy community.  he’s been drifting back with the wrong crowd for the last while now.  it’s not easy leaving people behind, even when they are self-serving friends who will turn on you and rat you out when the situation calls for it.

‘bad company corrupts good character,’ i tell him.

he nods in agreement.

it’s not the first time we have talked about this and i’m sure it’s not the last either.  i know it’s not easy for t because it wasn’t easy for me.  while the crowds we hung out with were quite different, they both pulled us down like quicksand.  crabs in a bucket, as my uncle says.

t agrees he needs healthy community surrounding him.  he wants to make healthier lifestyle choices but needs help.

i’ve always appreciated t’s honesty and humility.  he’s always been pretty quick to own his mistakes and reach out for help when he needs it.  it’s more than most of the rest of us can say.

pride is a hell of a drug, ain’t it?

t leaves but not without making me promise to have lunch with him the next day.  he doesn’t need to twist my arm.  we agree on a time and hug on it before he leaves.

‘i love you, guys,’ he says through a smile as he leaves my apartment.

love you too, t.

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