Friday, February 29, 2008


Mark called to let me know that the magpies are making nests in the tall trees. We couldn’t take time to discuss it. His bus was pulling up at the stop as he gasped out the news.
Most people would see this as a warning. Nests mean eggs. Eggs mean baby magpies. Baby magpies turn into noisy adolescent magpies. Noisy adolescent magpies turn into adults who build nests.
Most people dislike magpies. Robins are the perennial sign of spring. Even on the sunniest, toastiest, drippingest days in February magpie nests in Edmonton generally go uncelebrated. But Mark has called to share the joy. It’s more than just a promise of spring in February. He’s forgiven the magpie who unloaded on his upturned face as he gazed through the leaves. He’s remembering the baby he once rescued from the street, recalling how he sheltered it in the en suite bathroom of his high-rise apartment, recalling how it sailed away shortly after he moved it to the balcony.
Never one to sing along with magpies, I’ve nonetheless forgiven Mark for the role he may have played in increasing the magpie population. It’s another aspect of the personality that causes him to spend his time helping inner city street folks and children with disabilities. That long-ago magpie rescue was a foreshadowing of the work he was about to do. It might even be seen as an early exploration in fatherhood. Could these pre-leaf nest-builders be the grandchildren?

Thursday, February 28, 2008


How sweet it was to arrive early for a presentation and be greeted by the joyous sound of 80 women singing! They were singing church songs, even though it was Wednesday morning, and they were attending a meeting. They were singing sweet and loud, singing as if there was nothing else in the whole wide world they would rather be doing.

The opportunity to sing is one of the gifts that organized religion has given. I know a young man who will not willingly enter a church. Yet his whistled tunes on the veranda, his boisterous outpourings in the shower, are the songs we taught him in Sunday school. I do not challenge him on this. Why would I do anything that might silence him? As I hum along with him, and look to the future, I wonder where his children will learn to sing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


In some ways my computer is a little like my husband. I rely a lot on both of them, and I do tend to take them for granted. Many of the things I agree to do are rooted in the assumption that one or both of them will be there to do their part. And if this seems a little unfair, particularly unwise, putting machine and man on equal footing, there really is no reason for concern. Faced with the necessity to choose, say yes to one and leave the other behind, I am quite certain I’ll take the husband any day!!!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


When Hillary Clinton asks my advice
Which she possibly won’t since she’s never heard of me,
I’ll tell her to give up talking about realism
And do everything she can to be inspirational
And to start right away, not waste one more second.

You can tell at a glance that Hillary’s handlers
Have not been doing their research on hope
Because if they had they’d be telling Hilary
You’re wasting your breath shouting, “Be realistic!”
To a crowd that’s decided to be hopeful.

When the blacks were freed from the bonds of slavery
It wasn’t by anyone being realistic
Now deep in the memory runs an audacious hope
Brought spurting, bubbling up to the surface
By a leader of inspiration.

Next year the crowd will be more realistic
In the worst case perhaps a bit disappointed.
But this year the crowd is going to be hopeful
Enjoying the lift of a wild inspiration
And next year will be too late for you, Hillary.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Last week I witnessed a miracle. After spending 45 minutes with a wheezing, gurgly-chested woman who could hardly breathe, I told a story. When the story was done, she was breathing normally.
There are a lot of people who would question whether it actually was a miracle. Followers of Milton Erickson would call my story interlude an Ericksonian technique. Breath specialists would likely point out that she was catching her breath as I was telling the story. Anxiety specialists would say that the story reduced her anxiety, thus increasing her breathing capacity. Professional storytellers would use it as evidence to support funding professional storytellers for breath-enhancement programs.
I’ve thought of dressing up the story for a professional article. I could write about the confluence of counselling and storytelling, the intersection of anxiety reduction and physical well-being. It would all look very professional indeed, until the truth slipped out. The truth is that I was trying to persuade the woman to go to the doctor and ask for a medical solution to her breathing problem which—I pointed out—was far more severe than it had been over the past few months. . She, in turn, pointed out that it would be easier for her to breathe if she didn’t have to talk so much, and she wouldn’t have to talk so much if I would talk more. Then I, not wishing to continue lecturing, told her a story that was in my mind because it had been told to me only a few days earlier and I had noted it on THE HOPE LADY Blog. It had nothing to do with her situation. There was no justification for telling it in a counselling session. It was not in any way humorous. It was not about books or reading.
Here’s the before-and-after summary. Before the story her voice was barely audible. After the story it was loud and clear. Before the story she was talking about suicide. After the story she was asking questions about our storytelling circle. Before the story she could not remember any books she had read recently. After the story she mentioned two books by title and author. Before the story she did not laugh at my carefully chosen joke. After the story she told me three jokes.
Call it whatever you like. I call it a miracle. I am just glad I was there to witness it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


How often I sit here to witness the process of givens and takens and gifts. Today I talked with Barb about multiple sclerosis. One minute, for example, you have a body—a given. The next minute you have multiple sclerosis. Your life is permanently altered because some function plus your faith in the future of your body is taken. And then, when a function returns, perhaps you are able to move your leg again, that movement, once a given, is now a gift.
With Barb’s observations in mind, and a dollop of gratitude that I have never been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I hope to work on short-circuiting the process, so that more of my givens could be seen as gifts without enduring the painful process of having them taken. Yes, I understand that a celebration wouldn’t be a celebration if it were routine. Christmas is only special because it happens occasionally. Still, it seems a shame that givens—like health—have to be taken, or seriously threatened, before we can truly celebrate them as gifts.
Perhaps the first step is to imagine my life without things I take for granted. There are the big things, like meeting David after work, and getting phone calls from the kids. The loss of these would be so large, so traumatic. And then there are the things of no apparent consequence, my navel for one. How would I feel if I woke one morning to discover that it had gone missing, filled in without warning and grown over with skin? My life wouldn’t seem to be changed. Yet it would be different. My faith in the continuation of things with no apparent consequence would be permanently shaken. And so, with Joni Mitchell’s voice singing, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” ringing in my head, I give over these few lines to a celebration of all the unnamed, unnoticed givens in my life that would become potential future gifts the moment after I lost them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Among the thousands of things I never expected is this: I never expected to be giving speeches that sound like candidates’ speeches for the US presidency. But here I am, talking a bout Audacious Hope, just like Barack Obama.
Gender, race, political aspirations and citizenship aside, we have some things in common, Barack and me. Both of us get a lot of applause when we talk about hope. Both of us use the language of audacity and I believe. He’s getting more coverage though.
Neither of us invented the term audacious hope, though I expect that both of us are inspired by the same guy, Cornel West, a writer on black history who teaches at Princeton. Neither of us is much enamored with the idea of talking about false hope. Both of us believe that when somebody insists that you choose between hope and realism, it is better to start with hope and trust realism to follow, because when you start with realism, hope has a harder time of it.
There really isn’t any substitute for good old inspiration. Obama is out there every day, inspiring Americans with his talk about hope. And though I toil to categorize hope strategies and describe them in the language of academics, there is nothing more rewarding for me than the moment when a depressed or anxious client suddenly becomes inspired.
I have been noticing Barack Obama’s name in the hope research literature abstracts for nearly a year now, noticing it and ignoring it. I have not been interested in what American political hopefuls have to say about hope. But this week I cannot avoid hearing his name and his speeches every time I turn on the radio. The words they are playing are the words I am saying at health care conferences and mental health support groups. No doubt everybody else is hearing Obama’s speeches too. In future people will think I was inspired by Obama.
It’s a funny world, isn’t it?

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Pearl Ann told us a story about a man named Private
Samuel Laboucan from Elk Point Alberta who died twice and was buried twice. His first death occurred at Ypres, in Belgium, when the Germans gassed the soldiers in the trenches. His second death occurred in Wainwright Alberta in 1934. The second death was followed closely by the first burial, in a section of a Wainwright cemetery where the locals would bury the town drunk. The first death was followed by a hero’s celebration back home in Elk Point. He knew nothing of the celebration. He had forgotten his name, and his official identity had found its way home without him. Loathed as a deserter, the nameless man dug graves for the bodies that blotted the landscape of war.
Nobody wanted Samuel Laboucan by the time he remembered his name and returned to Elk point. Those who knew him had grieved and moved on. He had shrunk to a picture of disgust, unrecognizable as the celebrated soldier. Drunk and dishevelled, he wandered alone.
His second burial occurred when the Canadian Legion recognized him as one of their own and moved his grave to a place of honour. He is one of the heroes who will be brought back to life in dramatic presentations in the pageantry of Wainwright’s 100th anniversary. Pearl Ann cried when she told us the story, a belated tribute of grief in a storytelling circle for a man who died before she was born.
His third life, a great wrong put to right, better late than never.

Monday, February 04, 2008


You got to be thankful for what you got,”” says Bertine in Amy McKay’s novel THE BIRTHING HOUSE. If your man smokes, be thankful he doesn’t chew. If he smokes and chews, be thankful he doesn’t drink. If he does all three, be thankful he probably won’t live long.””
And if you laugh out loud at this, the way we did when first we heard it, then you might understand why, on Saturday, when the temperature rose to a sunny, balmy -20, we stopped huddling in the house and went skating. Sensible people know -20 is cold. Hardly anybody else went skating that day, leaving us the freedom of the oval. Just one more reason to be thankful.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


“This blog is sensored in China,” says Susan
To explain why she hasn’t been reading it.
And I am awestruck that THE HOPE LADY Blog
Should frighten the government of China.

“All blogs are blocked in China,” says Susan
To explain why this one remains unavailable.
And I am chastened and utterly grateful
To live in a country where writing about hope
Can be put on-line free for everyone.