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silent hospitals

silence

the hum of the hospital elevator still buzzes in my brain. one of those sounds that puts you at ease and into a comfortable, deep sleep. i remember the furnace in our basement gave off a sound just like the hospital elevator’s hum. i was 7, maybe 8, and i wouldn’t fall asleep until i heard the click of the furnace, then the hum that followed after.

mental thumb-sucking, probably.

dave is sitting up in his bed when i arrive, attempting to eat his dinner. pork chops and mashes potatoes. looks decent for hospital food. small cartons of milk and ensure line the right side edge of his hospital table. he really likes milk.

“is it snowing again?” he asks.

i shake my head. “not today.”

he reaches over and removes a couple of books from the visitor’s chair.

“here, sit down,” he tells me.

i thank him and sit. a trio of nurses looks over our way and talk amongst themselves, about which i can’t be sure. i’ve met a couple of them since i’ve been visiting dave. they seem friendly and caring. dave tells me some of the older nurses don’t even acknowledge him, even while administering to his medical needs.

i wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that he’s a homeless man.

dave tells me he received good news from the doctor. one of three infections surrounding his heart is successfully being treated by the cocktail of antibiotics he takes everyday. still two more infections to fight off, though but he seems up to the challenge. i don’t get the impression he wants to lie down and die.

not yet.

somehow, him and i begin talking about ancient historical leaders and the times in which they lived. dave has a few things to tell me about alexander the great. the brief history lesson draws in one of the younger nurses and soon there’s three of us discussing and debating and laughing.

dave has a good hearty laugh at one point, but it’s interrupted by a cough that echoes deep in his lungs. it puts a halt to the conversation. he puts his head back against the upright bed and closes his eyes.

“i could really do without those,” he says.

everything is quiet for a while. the nurse goes back to her station, i listen to the hum from the elevator still trapped in my head and dave rests his eyes.

i lean back to check the clock on the wall.

“you got somewhere to go?” dave asks me.

“actually, i do, but not for a while.”

he slowly nods and smiles, his eyes fixed on the ceiling tile above his hospital bed.

“i stare at the tiles on the ceiling for hours,” he explains to me. “i try to count the black marks on each one, then try to estimate how many ceiling tiles there must be in the entire hospital. i’ll figure out how many black marks this hospital has by the time they discharge me.”

i’m almost certain he will.

i notice a new necklace he is wearing. it’s made of fabric and has something written on the back of the square-shaped wool pendant. it says something to the effect that ‘anyone who is wearing this when they die will not go to hell’. it’s an old roman catholic superstition from what dave tells me.

“a priest brought it by for me. i figured ‘why not?’ it couldn’t hurt, right?”

“you scared of dying?” i ask him.

“not yet,” he says, eyes fixed on mine. “but i’m sure i will be if or when things get worse.”

“ya?”

“ya..”

silence.

i’m hit anew with the gravity of dave’s situation. this is happening right now. this isn’t a movie i can turn off and return to watch later if i want.

“if i grab that necklace from around your neck, yank it off and run out the door, would you feel any different about your present condition?” i ask him.

he laughs at the idea and tells me, “no. this necklace isn’t going to save me. God restored my soul many years ago. i may have been running from him these past years, but he’s not going to undo what’s been already spiritually done in me. it was grace that changed me and it’ll be grace that keeps me until my final hour.”

his back seems to have gotten a bit stronger after saying that because he’s sitting up straight now in bed, not slumping like he was. his face looks resolute as he turns towards me, courage seems to beam from his eyes. i’m not sure what to say or if any words are even necessary.

more silence.

when i was in grade school we had to read john steinbeck’s book ‘of men and mice’. my teacher’s love for the book inspired my classmates and i as we read through the novel together. it was the first book i remember having such an emotional impact on me. during a particularly important moment in the book, steinbeck writes:

“as happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. and sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”

and, so it was for dave and i as we sat there together in his hospital room, letting the silence do all the talking for us.

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just being boys

my sleep sucks.

again.

need to write.  writing helps.  it’s an escape at the very least.

anyone still reading this blog since the beginning (almost 5 years) knows that sleep has been quite elusive in my life.  shift work in shelters and group homes doesn’t probably help much.  having a couple sleep disorders doesn’t, neither. sleep apnea and insomnia combine to wreck most of my attempts to sleep.

right now i could use two days straight.  i’m just getting home from doing a back-to-back shifts.  first shift was at the rebuilding, a transitory, harm-reduction building housing men from the main men’s shelter in the city, metro turning point.  i recently go hired on as a client support worker.  my second shift was at the group home.  11-8am.

now it’s time for bed… if i can fall asleep.

ugh.

it’s not all bad, though. i like to believe there’s some positive in all the negativity my sleep problems bring to the table.

i get more time to read.

maybe you don’t see that as much of a trade-off.  i guess i’m odd, then.  i’m a big fan of reading. always have been. history, religion, politics, psychology, philosophy, etc, etc.

it all fascinates me.

my addiction.

my escape.

my mom was a single parent growing up. dad lived far away, at first, because he played pro football in other cities, and then because he remarried an american woman. mom and i often lived with a roommate to make things cheaper.

that’s how eric entered our lives.

eric was an old man who had served in world war 2 with the canadian airforce. he was there on d-day peppering the nazis on normandy’s cliffs with gunfire, trying to give his fellow soldiers a fighting chance when they hit the beaches.

he was a hero.

he told me lots of stories of his days in the military.  some were really funny stories of jokes they played on each other, while other stories were more serious. some times he cried after telling me one of the more serious one. i would cry, too. i could tell by the expression on his face that he was really hurting inside.

at first, eric was just a friend of a friend who needed a room for rent, but eventually became a part of our family. kind of like a surrogate grandpa.

and i loved him like a grandfather, too.

he would teach me how to take things i found in the forest behind our house and make all kind of different tools and (to my mother’s dismay) weapons.

eric would teach me how to find the perfect stick to bend into a bow with some string. in a matter of minutes we would be shooting arrows at targets in my backyard.

i became a pretty good shot from what i remember.

though, maybe it’s selective memory.

when the hit cartoon series teenage mutant ninja turtles filtered into my life, eric showed me how to make another weapon: nunchucks.

nunchucks

in case you aren’t sure what those are, i’ve provided a picture for you here.

we were just being boys.

unfortunately for me, as soon as mom found out i had made them she took them away. she wasn’t too impressed with the nunchucks and probably figured i’d crack someone’s head open.

or my own.

probably for the best.

eric would also read to me at night. but instead of reading me books for my age group (5-6) he would read me war books or aviation manuals full of physics equations and flying jargon.

ya know, typical little boys books.

my mom asked him one time, “eric, why are you reading him books that are way over his head? he’s only a little boy.”

“darlene,” he said. “children can learn to understand much more than we give them credit for. besides, he asks ME to read them to him.”

eric was a loner. he didn’t really have any family or friends left.  he covered his tv set so “they couldn’t watch him” (he had pstd from the war).  he walked all over the place, collecting nuts and bolts and other thingamabobs he would find on the road. he had dozens of containers for everything he found.

a very organized pack rat.  everything had its own, particular place.

except his books.

i’ll always remember the giant book shelf in his room.  it stood like a triumphant trophy case over his small abode. i could see books with pictures of planes, tanks, ships and soldiers scattered all about his room. i can still see the influence he had on me then when i look around my apartment and see my books all over the place.

monkey see, monkey do.

i credit eric with not only my love for reading today but helping my mom to educate me and develop my young mind.  young single moms need that sort of help from their communities.

everyone wants to help in ways that are big.  end poverty.  end homelessness.  end world hunger.  end war.  end slavery. all these are great but i got one better:  help a kid read.

i’ll be so bold to say that there’s nothing more impacting on our society and future than helping others read.  you get the next generations to read their history books, maybe they won’t repeat history over again like us and our parents and grandparents.

maybe then we won’t still be plagued by homelessness, starvation, war, poverty, slavery, because they won’t wilfully remain ignorant of the world around them.

confucius, the ancient chinese philosopher and wandering sage, said it best. “no matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

eric died when i was 6.

i don’t really remember that time very well. either time has stolen it away from me or i’ve simply blocked it out. i’m not sure.

i do remember feeling a deep sadness. like i had lost my best friend.

i guess in many ways i had.

miss you, eric.  thanks for the support and love. i hope you’re resting in peace.

bedtime.

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little by little

i got promoted at my job not long ago.

cue applause and ‘congratulations!’ banner.

ok, it’s not as special as it seems. i’m still working as a mental health counselor and my job description has not changed a bit. the only difference now is more hours.

not as glamorous as the opening line suggests, eh?

more hours means more time spent with my clients and that’s a pretty awesome perk since they’re pretty awesome. they all make me laugh, think, feel and understand. it’s some of the best living i do. we get to live life together and experience the up’s and the down’s.

the up’s can be really good. there’s a treasure chest of reward helping people live better lives. i often wonder who is getting more from our interactions – them or me.

but the down’s can be bad. deep and dark at times. at times it’s hard to remind myself of the up’s when the down’s are pretty depressing. i don’t feel this way for long, as things change pretty rapidly.

frustration.

psychosis frustrates me. it gets under my skin more than i care to admit it. i’m supposed to be used to it’s ways by now, right? i’ve been working with dozens and dozens of people who dealt with psychosis. this is nothing new to me.

it frustrates me more today than it ever did before.

why?

i’m not sure. i’m writing right now to figure that out.

i search my brain’s data banks from my psychology studies in university hoping to find the answers i want. nothing. i comb online psych journals looking for a glimmer of hope.

still nothing.

i know the things people say when they are experiencing a psychotic episode isn’t really them. i know this. i know that the insults, threats and names that are spoken aren’t coming from their heart but from their delusions and disjointed thoughts. i know they don’t mean what they say.

i know all this and still it frustrates me.

there is no reasoning with psychosis.

maybe that’s my problem. maybe that’s what frustrates me so much. maybe my own understanding of mental health needs to change then.

i want to be able to compartmentalize everything in my life. there’s a sense of control in that. when everything fits nicely into it’s little box that feels comfortable.

control and comfort.

pride and selfishness?

i can’t compartmentalize mental health, especially not psychosis. that’s what probably bothers me so much. there’s no comfort and there is definitely no control over it. psychosis operates on it’s own terms and doesn’t care a rip about anything else. it doesn’t care about the mind it is corrupting and the negative feelings it is causing, both in the host and the surrounding people.

one of my client’s struggles with psychosis. i can seen the pain on their face as they struggle to understand and be understood in a confusing world full of delusion and debilitating paranoia. i see and feel the anger that is born from their cognitive difficulties to piece together the disjointed reality thrown at them.

even though they have many people around them on a day-to-day basis – family, friends, support workers – i can still see the loneliness on their face.

and it eats me up inside little by little..

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back from the dead

for the first couple days all i could go on were the stories i had heard others tell me. anxiety began setting in a bit, though the anger stood front and center and ready for action. my mind has functioned the same way for so long. you hurt mine and i will hurt you.

my blood boiled inside of my veins.

then i finally saw him.

bruised, bashed, beaten and broken.

before today, dave looked every bit the homeless man he was. he even shuffled his feet in the stereotypical way you might a imagine a beggar doing so. his unruly hair and unmanaged beard also fit the stereotype. he collected cigarettes butts from bus stops to gather up enough tobacco to roll his own cigarettes. his fingernails and teeth stained yellow and brown from his habit.

but that was only dave’s outer appearance. you can’t even come close to judging dave’s book by examining his cover. what he may appear to lack on the outer shell, he more than makes up for inside.

i’ve known dave for almost 3 years now. met him through a few of the other street guys i was working with at the time. dave had told me about the hassles the local police had been given him for panhandling. they had barred him from panhandling in a certain area that was a big money-maker for him. instead of listening to the police, he continued to go back to the spot and work his ‘trade’. a man’s gotta eat.

eventually the police began giving him ridiculously priced fines knowing full well that he couldn’t and wouldn’t pay them. our tax dollars hard at work, ladies and gentlemen of halifax.

dave and i began to hang out and talk on a frequent basis. it didn’t take long for me to realize that dave was a genius. he knew his way around computers like he had created them. his understanding of philosophical and economic matters made me a bit envious at times. geography, history, psychology, sociology, physics – you name it, dave knew it.

and all this without a shred of arrogance or pride.

humble as a hummingbird.

“you are still alive,” i say as i sit down beside him at the table.

“they don’t know how but ya, i am.”

dave’s arm is in a sling overtop of a blue hospital shirt, resting on the left arm of his new wheelchair. his eyes are both blood-shot and his face is a mess, to say the least. his left eye is worse where they hit him with a large rock. dried blood lines his ears and nostrils.

my blood pressure is rising again.

“what happened, dave?” i ask.

in a robbery attempt to take his gst cheque, a group of young adults attacked and beat dave to within an each of his life. they used a large rock to initially knock him down and then their feet to knock him unconscious. a witness to the assault said they had kicked him in the head 16 more times AFTER dave had been knocked out.

sickening.

“but ya know what? i forgive them, or at least my heart wants to forgive them,” dave explains to me. “jail is going to eat those young kids alive. as much as i wish they hadn’t done this to me, i wish they hadn’t done it to themselves.”

all i can think about is what i would do if i got my hands on those punks and dave, even in his pain, finds the ability to forgive those who inflicted that very pain on him.

i’m humbled.
but his story gets worse.

after getting out of the hospital, dave crawls into a cardboard trash bin to make a bed and get some sleep. he wakes up to crashing and banging and his whole world being turned upside down. he then finds himself inside of the back of a large garbage truck. the lid closes tight, shutting off the outside world. then the crushing starts..

can you imagine?!

seriously, try to imagine this scenario happening to you. you get jumped and almost killed in a violent mugging, and then as soon as you are released from the hospital you are thrown into the back of a garbage truck that begins squeezing you to death.

dave talked about the experience in great detail.

he felt his collar-bone snap and his arm begin to bend. the cardboard helped cushion a bit of the crushing at first. eventually there was no more give. pain all over his body. he told me he didn’t know what to do so he began praying.

desperately praying.

the crushing stopped.

he began pounding on the side of the garbage truck with his free arm and yelling for help but no one could hear him. the crushing started again. he began praying again.

it stopped again.

he kept praying desperately that the truck would stop so the driver could hear him and free him from his steel torture chamber. it does. the driver stopped to gas up and hears dave pounding on the side of the truck. he opens it up and gets dave out and to the hospital.

“crazy, hey?”

“no kidding!” i reply. “God must have things for you to do still.”

he nods his head.

“i definitely believe that, lucas. i’m convinced of it now.”

dinner was about to be served at the shelter so i had to run back into the kitchen to help serve but told dave i’d be back after. he smiled and nodded. afterwards we sat and chatted more about his ordeal.

“you sound different, dave.”

he spoke less like a man who had just been crippled by two life altering incidents and more like a man re-energized and recharged to take life by the horns.

“i know. something clicked,” he tells me. “it’s time for me to make some changes, not only to myself but to the world around me.”

i hope he’s the one to lead the revolution. nothing would make me happier.

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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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balance

balance.

my life is a constant struggle between balancing and rebalancing.

relationships, jobs, education, ministry.

priorities.

balance brings with it peace, thus why our (or maybe just my) balance is so important.  it feels good to have a solid foundation underneath your feet.  especially where you are juggling a few too many balls.

one of the places i feel most balanced is at st andrews church on sunday evenings.  getting to share a meal and socialize with a lot of my poor and/or homeless friends is a gift that continues to keep giving me back way more than i put in.

pizza is always a guaranteed component of the meal.  each plate comes with a slice of pizza, then your option of a small plastic bag full of small slices.  this past sunday, the church that was hosting made a delicious (and from what i could tell nutritious) meal for the community.

kat and walked into the gym a few moments after the 5pm public prayer and grace. randy spotted us his way.

‘lucas!’ randy shouted.

i turned to see randy smiling, his right hand upon his now shaved head, rubbing the hairless surface.

‘i shaved my head just like you.’

randy is one of our original members of street soccer.  he competes in several special olympics events and does quite well considering he’s pushing 60.  he doesn’t move the fastest on the soccer pitch nor does he have the strongest kick, but he works hard and celebrates like no one else.  even a bad case of asthma can’t keep him away from playing.

‘my stomach still isn’t feeling well,’ randy said to me.  ‘the doctors at the emergency room told me to take it easy.’

randy can’t play but stays around to watch and cheer on his teammates.

that’s loyalty.

we had another big turnout of players.  international students have been coming more steadily, i guess seeing us as a place where they can play the game they love and integrate into canadian society.  our players have embraced and welcomed them into our little sports community.

i love how we do that.

i end up playing with sim, adele and holly on my team.

sim and adele go to school together at one of the local high schools.  both have immigrated here with their parents from countries in the middle east and north africa.  both have experienced difficulties fitting in here in halifax.  can’t tell if it has to do with bullying or just a difference in cultures.

it’s no fun when you don’t fit in.

but not at street soccer.  they fit in perfectly here.

sim is a talented, young soccer player whose only weakness is that he is so skinny that he gets easily bumped off the ball by larger players.  he took a hard spill this past sunday, knocking his elbow hard off the pitch.  two minutes later he was scoring goals for us again.
what adele lacks in soccer skills he makes up in sheer effort, though his skills have begun to develop considerably in the past while.  adele will often shout ‘no!’ after the opposing team or even his own team scores a goal.  it seemed quite odd at first, but after a while we noticed a pattern similar with that of tourette’s syndrome.  while it often takes visiting players a bit off guard, the rest of the players have become used to the loud outbursts.

just as some of our guys are dealing with depression or schizophrenia or anxiety or adhd or bipolar or whatever else, this is just part of what adele is dealing with.  street soccer is a no stigma community.

and i plan it keep it that way.

holly is one of kat’s friends who started coming out and playing with us several months ago.  holly is an athlete.  a former university basketball player, she holds her own on the soccer pitch quite well.  she plays with a knee that needs major surgery soon and an ankle that not long ago that was one of the craziest colors of purple i’ve ever seen.  she’s tough.  she recently bet val she could beat him in a game of one on one basketball.  not the wisest decision.  valentin won himself two weeks worth of dinners.  ha!

after two and half hours of soccer we are all worn out.  it so happened that someone had left the heat on in the church gymnasium, which was a good explanation why everyone was drenched in sweat.  after a brief team stretch we all gather our things and turn off the lights.

whatever balance issues i had walking into st andrews were no longer there when i walked back out.  another week of street soccer is over.  i’m so grateful that i have such an amazing, authentic and inclusive community to belong to, and one that brings a good dose of balance into my life.

i love this game.

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memory of a midnight mission

my blog reminded me today that 3 years ago i started this blog.  it sure doesn’t feel like that long ago.  crazy how time passes by so fast.

in light of that, i thought i would share a memory from 2010.

***

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it’s a bit past 1am before i get to new beginnings church where lou has been living during his internship.  if you didn’t know any better, you’d think we were robbing the church.  we whisper and creep inside the side doors of the church and into the basement.

that’s where our stash is.

two large garbage bags full of pastries, donated by a local baker who cares for the poor in his community.

tonight is going to be good.  lou and i are both psyched.

new beginnings was a church just on the fringe of the downtown eastside of vancouver.   just a hop, skip and a jump from the glow of the dtes.  surrounded by cheap public housing for first nations and immigrants populations, the church was created to help the local community in any way they could.  pastor joe was a large man (i felt like a dwarf beside him) who had an even larger heart and a crazy redemption story he didn’t mind sharing.

back outside, we sat on the ledge beside the church contemplating our midnight mission.  we had about 70 pounds of sweets between the two bags we found in the basement.

south.

we would head south until we found someone or we hit the industrial park.  bags slung over our shoulders we set off.

bill was filling his cart up with new cans he had found in the gas station garbage bin when we crossed paths with him.  his haul was quite substantial.  he had been working hard for several hours before he met us.  pushing the cart around all day had made him really hungry.

‘how about some muffins or donuts?’ lou offered.

‘can i have both?’

‘you can have a few of each if you want.’

bill didn’t need to be told twice.  out came four pastries of his choosing, a few oozing with icing and creamy filling.

a big smile came across bill’s face and our own.  we talked with him for a while, hearing his story about life on the streets.  he gave us some wise advice which he repeated for emphasis.

‘don’t you boys forget this now, ya hear?’

we promised we wouldn’t and shook hands to seal our new friendship with bill.

we veered left heading towards the dtes.  a few street girls were working on the corners as we passed.  they all looked like they hadn’t eaten in days, maybe weeks.  i felt a bit bad giving them sugary, innutritious food but it was all we had and they needed something in their bellies.  they were very grateful. we wished them a safe night and kept going.  their pimps don’t like you hanging around for very long, even if you are feeding them.

oppenheimer park was empty but the streets surrounding it were crawling with action.  drug deals were being done in the shadows of sunken door ways on the street corners.  a group of people were huddled up against one of the buildings have a bit of a party.  we asked if they were hungry, knowing full well what their answer would be.

‘yeah!  what do you got?’ came the reply.

‘donuts, muffins and other sweet stuff.’  i replied.

arms shot up like i was a teacher in an elementary school class room asking who wanted to go next for show-and-tell.  everyone was hungry.

‘why are you guys doing this?’

lou and i looked at each other and shrugged.

‘we had food and figured there would be hungry people on the street to share it with.  we also figured it would be a great way to make some new friends.’

‘well, i’m definitely your friend now!’

and with that one of the guys stumbled to his feet and threw his arms around us to give us a big hug.  a couple of others joined and the group hug got bigger.

donuts + conversation + late night walking in the ghetto = new friends

i love that kind of math.

we meandered our way on to east hastings where most of the action was happening.  a cop car races by on their way to something important as drug dealers offered us ‘some of their best stuff.’  persistent guys considering i’ve walked by them for the past 8 months having said ‘no, thanks’ every time.  we offer them some sugary snack but they wave us off.  they can afford better food with the money they make of selling crack to the addicts in the neighborhood.

part of me wants to drag them into the nearest dark alley way and beat the drug dealer out of them.  it might work but there’s too many of them and more waiting to replace them.  it’s an unending battle.  drugs kill here.  overdoses are far too common in this neighborhood.  and, before it kills you, it robs you of everything else you ever had, keeping you chained and in slavery to the poison that’s slowly killing you.

ugly stuff.

i hear some drug dealers carry guns.  at the very least they have large knives.  i’m mad but not stupid.

another cop car passes by us slowly.  their suspicious eyes are easy to spot.  i don’t like the police here and it’s not because of the way they look at me.

far too many of them treat the homeless and poor in the neighborhood as sub-humans.  i’ve seen cops do some pretty nasty things and get away with it.  the pivot legal society, an organization that tries to create social change by focusing on breaking down systemic barriers to the full realization of human rights, has their hands full with complaints against the vancouver police dept.  accountable policing is a serious issue here.

lou and i meet a young guy (i can’t remember his name) who is roughly our age.  he is partying with friends and heading to another bar when we cross paths.  he asks what we are doing and we tell him a bit about our midnight mission.  the look on his face visibly changes.  he tells his friends to go on without him and he will catch up.

he doesn’t.

he joins us and we continue walking down east hastings, feeding anyone with a hungry belly and a desire to satisfy their sweet tooth.

he comes from a good family but has been running with the wrong crowd for a while.  he knows he shouldn’t but the allure is too much for him.  he has a weakness for strong drink, cocaine and easy women.  he feels trapped.

we walk around for hours with him, talking life and becoming friends.

as he leaves us to head home, he swears our time together has changed him.  we hug it out and say goodbye.  we walk away hoping that

it really has.

lou comes back to my place and we debrief.  he falls asleep in the big, comfy chair in the corner of my room.  i grab a pen and paper to write down everything that happened.  i don’t want to forget this night.

i never did.

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pushed around

this week can’t end fast enough.

i had breakfast with one of my mentors this morning.  eggs benny as usual.  i was tired from having not slept well the night before.  mind racing and refusing to rest.  distracted from sleep by frustration, anger and a slew of other emotions i’d rather not list.

there have been only a few weeks during my whole life where i have actually questioned my desire to continue doing outreach on the streets.  this past week was one of those weeks.

to be honest, some times i hate doing this.

as rewarding as many of the relationships i’ve built at street level have been (some have changed my life), very few of them have been easy.  not by any stretch.  yes, all relationships take time and effort, but building them on the street usually involves much more.

more patience.

more love.

more grace.

some times i just don’t want to give more.

some times i just want to get a regular job, work with regular people (is there such a thing?) and have a regular routine.

no more visits to the shelter.

no more hanging out at the soup kitchens.

no more anything street related.

why i am saying all of this?

i’m tired.

i’m tired of having to always be the strong one.  tired of putting on a fake smile and talking about sports or complaining about the weather.  tired of having to project strength when inside i feel weak.

i’m tired of pretending i feel ok inside when that’s not how i feel.

underneath whatever veneer i consciously or subconsciously project, i hurt just as easily as everyone else.  maybe more.  i just don’t allow it to show.  project strength not weakness.

it’s a facade.

i’m broken like everyone else.  i’ve got to accept that eventually, right?

i was betrayed this week.

it wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time, i’m sure.

that last matter-of-fact statement is more veneer, as if i don’t care.  i do care.  i care more than i’m willing to admit.  it’s not because of who it is but what they represented.

‘friendship’s enemy is betrayal.’

i was betrayed this week and i lost a friend.

different sides of the same coin.

i allowed myself to be pushed around.  literally.  screamed in my face.  insults upon more insults.

don’t take it personally, i tried to repeat in my head.

but no matter how many times i repeat the cliche-like mantra, it doesn’t work.

i can’t help but take it personally.

fatal flaw or gift from God.

feels more like a flaw today.  tomorrow it may be a gift again.

i’m reading through a book called ‘the cost of community’ right now.  in it the author examines what real, authentic community looks like and the cost to those who venture to build and be part of it.  tough times are a given, the author argues.  real community doesn’t come about without blood, sweat and tears.  in one part, which i feel speaks to me the most considering my past week, the author says, ‘resist the impulses for vengeance (gossip, slander, etc) and retribution and follow the radically risky and sacredly foolish path of peace and love.’

that sounds nice and all, but i’m tired and find it hard to care right now.

i need a vacation.

or maybe just a decent sleep.

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bob the bus driver

my alarm clock ring is the most annoying sound i could find on my phone.  it had to be in order to wake me up because when (if) i get to sleep, i’m out cold.  it makes for waking up not the most pleasant part of my day.  add to the mix that i’m not much of a morning person (at all) and some mornings it’s down-right sinful when the alarm goes off.

this morning was one of those mornings.

the bus that takes me to work is a 15 walk from my place.  not bad.  the walk gives me a chance to wake up a bit.  it’s been a good time to get into some prayer and start my day off centered with the right frame of mind.

‘morning, fella.’

‘morning, sir,’ i replied to the bus driver.

i grabbed the daily paper and took a seat in the back of the bus.  the bus hadn’t left yet and no one else had boarded.  i took up two seats on the right side bench and made myself comfortable.

‘you just getting off work?’ the bus driver asked, as he made his way down the aisle toward me.

‘no, sir, just heading to work actually.’

‘what do you do?’

i told him and we got rolling from there into conversation.  his parents had run group homes for many years here in halifax, something he said that had molded him into the man he was today.  when i asked him if his parents still worked in group homes, a frown dropped his face and he sighed a large sigh.

‘my mother just passed away two weeks ago.  it’s been a hard a month..’

a much stronger man than i.  there’s no way on God’s green earth that i’d be back at work two weeks after the passing of my mother.  i’ll be a wreck for months.  his tone seemed pained but his demeanor was solid.

‘she’s in a better place now, anyways.  no more suffering.’

he had found acceptance in her passing.

he went on to tell me about the faith of his mother, how she had been the rock of the whole family.  he attributed it all to her strong faith in God.  she was a dedicated community volunteer on as many fronts as she could put herself on.  if someone needed help, she wasn’t far away.

it was really quite endearing to hear this man, my bus driver, talk about his mom with me.  i could tell that he had really loved her.  that he was so willing to talk about it with a perfect stranger really surprised me.  maybe i shouldn’t be anymore.  this seems to be a trend happening in my life.

i’m not complaining.

looking down at his watch, he said, ‘looks like we better takeoff before i make you late for work.’

good call, so off we went.

i decided to move up to the front of the bus so we could continue talking.  for the next 30 minutes we shared as much as two people can in such a short period of time.  he talked about his kids and retiring in 8 years, i told him about my new job and moving to halifax from vancouver.

fast friends.

‘hey, thanks for talking with me this morning,’ he said to me. ‘it was just what i needed to start my day’.

‘me too.’

as we pulled up to my stop, we said our goodbye’s and realized we hadn’t properly done our hello’s.

‘by the way, my name is lucas,’ i said, with my hand stuck out inviting a shake.

‘nice to meet you, lucas.  i’m bob.’

bob the bus driver, and my new friend.

‘hopefully see you again, bob.’

‘it’s a small city.  i’m sure we are bound to see each other again,’ he said with a smile and a wink.

i hope so, bob.  thanks for making my day.

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wisdom from an elder

‘According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life.’

this wasn’t written in a sensationalist newspaper or on a controversial website.  while certainly left of center, the guardian is not your usual doomsday predictor.  nevertheless, yesterday’s jarring headline reads more apocalyptic than utopian.

a whole lot of nothing is being done to protect the earth from our destructive behaviors.  there has been a lot of big talk and plenty of official public meetings where politicians and figure heads posture and peacock for the masses, but very little has and is actually being done to save us from future ruin.

make no mistake about it, our planet is reeling under our over-inflated superiority complexes.  our forests are clear-cut or diseased from climate change.  our waters are intoxicated with plastic that destroys marine life or radiation from the fukushima disaster.  150-200 species of wildlife are dying each day.  extinct.  never to come back again.

read that again and let it simmer for a moment or two.

200 species!!

an estimated 1 billion people are reliant on fish for their well-being and survival.  as we pollute our waters that destroy ecosystems or over-fish, disrupting other species in the food chain (which has negative consequences that stretch far beyond what our nearsightedness allows), we threaten the lives of 1/7th of the planet, not to mention all the other creatures that we share this planet with.

please notice that i emphasized the word ‘share’.  novel concept for humanity, i know.

yes, i’ve painted a very one-sided picture of climate change.  of course there is much more at play, but for the sake of brevity, sleep and a hankering to rant, i won’t be presenting the other side.

i’m not really sure how to process this latest report.  i do believe it’s serious but how much emotional and mentally energy can i give to something that i feel i can’t really do anything about?

and there’s the rub – most people don’t care (at least not enough to do anything) because they don’t feel empowered to be able to do anything.  it’s too far out of their reach.

thus it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  we don’t feel we are able to change anything so we do nothing and no change is done.

i know this might sound a bit sensationalist but i can’t help asking:

is this how it’s all going to end?

are we really going to sit on our hands and allow our grand children and great-grandchildren deal with this awful mess?   are we going to continue on this trajectory because we couldn’t or simply wouldn‘t  take seriously the signs and statistics staring us in the face?

i desperately want to be optimistic about this and believe that at the eleventh hour a group of people will rise up and take control of the wheel and steady our path, but i’m increasingly becoming more pessimistic that it will happen.

i used to sit and talk with an older coast salish man back when i lived in the downtown eastside of vancouver.  he must have been close to eighty, with a steady dose of stories and elderly wisdom at his disposal.  spending time and talking with him calmed me.

he told me about the conquering of his people by the europeans but never blamed the white man, like many do, unfortunately.  ‘it wasn’t the white man who was responsible’, he would tell me.  ‘it was the lies they had been told were truth.  they had been taught the lie that they were more important than anything else – animals, earth, water, air and other people.’

my old coast salish friend often told this with a very pained expression on his face, like it hurt him physically to tell.

‘not until this lie has been exposed and corrected will my people, or any of the peoples of our great earth, live in a healthy, properly functioning world.  we must learn that the collective – past, present and future – is more important than the individual.

we must learn what true community is.’

if my old friend could stay optimistic until the day he died, i guess i can as well.  maybe there’s some fighting spirit still left in a few of us to make a dent in the armor.

it better be soon, though..

‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ – margaret mead

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/17/un-environment-programme-_n_684562.html

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