Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I hardly ever write about hopelessness. I generally prefer to leave that to others. But I saw the mmost magnificent example of hopelessness, and it seemed that I ought to record it.
I shared a tiny meeting room with a few others. It was a chilly autumn day, the kind that tends to show itself in rooms where the heating system has failed to respond to the change of season. “It’s cold in here,” said Mary.
“Yes it is,” said Louise. “I’ll report it to the receptionist.”
When the meeting was over, we emerged into the toasty warm reception area. Louise walked up to the desk. “The heating isn’t working in that room,” she said.
“Oh,” said the receptionist.
“I think it needs to be fixed,” said Louise.
“Oh, they don’t fix things around here,” said the receptionist.
“It really is too cold to work in there,” said Louise.
“If I called,” said the receptionist, “they wouldn’t come. It took me a week to get a light switch changed.”

Friday, October 21, 2011


All Canadians owe debt to Famous Five; Their fight was a foundation for human rights and equality laws

Paula Simons: “In Canada today, we are all, women and men, straight and gay, third generation, or aboriginal or brand-new immigrant citizen, persons, with the same legal
rights and privileges. We all get to vote.”

It wasn’t always that way. Five women made it possible, Emily Murphy, Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


“Hope is a healthy, positive orientation that allows us to think about the future and feel okay in the present.” –Wendy Edey

I spent a couple of hours with a dozen spouses and adult children of people with late-stage Alzheimer Disease. We talked about these caregivers as people first, people with their own way of dealing with things, their own likes and dislikes, their own sources of pleasure and comfort. Then we talked about hope, then about their present troubles, and their future worries.
Hope is a difficult topic for this crowd. Their loved-ones have passed the stage of independence. If they are not already living away from home, they likely will be in the near future. Some cry each time their visitors leave. Others are unable to offer their visitors even the smallest flicker of recognition.
The people who attend caregiver groups are a loyal lot, full of compassion, hobbled by the conflicting pressures of their own beliefs. Prolonging the lives of their loved-ones seems cruel, not doing so unconscionable. Long-ago promises of stayng together in sickness and health are broken by force.
As the end of our time grew near, I asked them: “Given all that we have said today, what is it that gives you hope?”
One family, mother and daughter, told the following story.
“Dad has two dogs, plush toys. He thinks they are real. He cares for them, hugs them, pets them, tells stories about them, cries when bad things happen to them. We found the first dog at a garage sale and took it to him, never thinking how much he would treasure it. He was with us when we bought the second one. He hugged it and said, ‘It isn’t real, is it?’ But it also was real to him.”
This story had a very appreciative audience. One person spoke up. “You can’t leave anything in a nursing home,” she said reasonably. “Things get stolen.”
“Oh yes,” said the mother and daughter. “The dogs wander off. Sometimes the staff brings them back. Sometimes we go searching for them. Dogs wander off, you know.”
“One time Dad packed the dogs in a kennel for a trip he imagined he was taking on WestJet. Where he found the box we do not know. The cleaning staff didn’t realize there were dogs in the box when they threw it out. We went right to the store and got similar dogs. Then we bought four more look-alikes.”
Hope is a healthy positive orientation to the future that helps us feel okay in the present.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011




All over the world, at this very time, people are gathering around symbols of hope. There is the Arab spring, the Other 99, the colour Pink.
In a global sense hope symbols draw together individuals into a greater whole. They say, You are not alone. Others care about this cause.” Because I am not alone when I engage with a hope symbol, I say, “I am interested.” Then, as those hope symbols take on personal importance for me, I say, “My participation matters. I can make a difference.” That is how hope symbols have defeated the numbing progress of apathy. That is how hope symbols have propelled us to take actions we might not have taken. That is how hope symbols have changed the world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Here is something that gave me hope. I was invited to read a story to a class of teen-agers who have autism. Should it surprise us that they love a good story?
Most of them are boys, some are girls. Some speak clearly, others—not so much. Some can introduce themselves with a smile, for others the very idea is a minefield of anxiety.
The comings and goings are capably managed by four staff. Calm and cool they appear to be, at any point when chaos threatens. And though I sympathize with the teacher who worries about doing it well, and striving to do better, and having one more idea when nobody else has one, I am overwhelmed by the enormity of how far our education system has come, and how miraculously things have changed in the course of my adult life.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I stood on the edge of Churchill Square
Where a crowd had gathered to “occupy Edmonton”
A crowd of aged and babies,
Of centres and lefts and lefts of centre,
Earlier tallied at thirty,
Swelled to maybe a thousand.

The crowd was cheerful and peaceful,
Holding signs about global warming,
Being fair and ending poverty.
“Save our billionaire,” read one sign.
“Pay five hundred million in taxes.”

Though the media said it was nothing
Since the crowd lacked a crystal clear focus.
Here were a thousand citizens
Who truly believe that things can be different
Just saying no to powerlessness,
Just saying no to apathy.

And hope rose up inside me
For are not apathy and powerlessness
The things that keep the many down
Making all the influence available
To be placed in the hands of the few?

Saturday, October 15, 2011


I asked the Internet to find me a question to answer. It’s part of my October commitment to keep on writing, no matter what is happening in my life. Here is what the Internet asked me: “If your parents were just people your own age, would you like them enough to be friends with them?”
“Well,” I said in response, “I’d say this is a moot point. If my parents were my own age I wouldn’t even know them. We wouldn’t tend to bump into each other. My parent’s were/are rural people. You’d find them farming, or shopping at the Co-op, or throwing rocks at the curling rink. Somewhere along the line I turned into a city girl not often seen on farms, in Co-op stores or cheering on the curlers. Generally your friends hang out where you hang out.”
“Insufficient!” said the Internet. “You are ducking the question.”
“Yes,” said I, “I admit to ducking the question. But I do have an excellent excuse.”
“And what is your excellent excuse?” said the Internet.
“My excuse,” I replied, “and I think it’s a good excuse, my excuse for ducking the question of whether I’d like my parents enough to be friends with them turns out to be the wrong question. The question that perplexes me is: if I were the age of my kids, would they like me enough to want to be my friend? And, practical person that I am, the mother of city kids, I then must wonder: where would I have to hang out to meet my kids, and what would I have to do to get my kids to choose me if they met me there?”
My mind, in response, strays to unexpected places. Picture me having fun at poker games, paintball centres, evenings playing world of war Craft, scrap-booking parties, smoking on frozen front porches.
Now, back to the question. I don’t think I’ll answer the question. Suffice it to say that I love my parents. I love my kids. And I think I may have inadvertently come upon a few good reasons to maintain the generation gap.

Friday, October 14, 2011

helen keller on pessimism

"No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit." - Helen Keller

If I could talk to Helen Keller, just spend an hour or two spelling words into her hand and hearing her speak in reply, I know exactly how I’d spend it. I’d start with a question: “Helen,” I’d say, “Would you please help me understand how it is that you have been able to maintain such a relentlessly optimistic outlook?”
It’s funny that I should be asking questions of Helen Keller, a folk hero who died in 1968. Helen Keller never knew it, but she and I have had a lengthy, rocky relationship. Life is full of surprises.
I dared not admit it in public, but the truth is, I did not admire Helen Keller when I was young. Admiring her was so fashionable, so done! I prided myself on being an original thinker, a critical analyst. There was much about the legend of Helen Keller that bothered me.
Her writing bothered me. I read some of her books and judged them to be untruthfully sappy. Her comparability bothered me. I looked upon the real deafblind citizens of Edmonton and felt the pain they must have felt when they were expected to measure up to her standards. Her wealth bothered me. I saw how impoverished other deafblind people were, lacking the financial resources of Helen’s wealthy father. Her teacher bothered me. I saw how isolated most deafblind people were, lacking a lifelong devoted teacher like the ever-faithful Anne Sullivan.
It is not too surprising that I felt something akin to joy when I began to discover evidence that Helen might not have been perfect. I heard Helen’s voice on the radio. It sounded horrible, almost not human! “Aha!” I said to myself, “You weren’t perfect!” I read that attending a dinner party with Helen was an experience in frustration. Helen, unaware of table conversation, would constantly interrupt. “Aha!” I said to myself. “More proof that you weren’t perfect!”
So now that I’ve finally come clean, confessed all this in public, it humbles me to also admit that somewhere along the lifeline, I joined that throng of billions who consider Helen Keller a personal hero. I know she wasn’t perfect, yet I look to her for inspiration. I think she would have been a great supporter of hope studies. Her comments on pessimism are actually unarticulated comments about optimism. She lived a philosophy of hope.
Helen Keller was not born a hero. She had potential and she became one, took her place as a hero—a celebrity—a well known person with power and influence. She possessed superior intelligence and didn’t waste it. She had wealth and she used it. She spent years in the company of an uncharacteristically faithful teacher and she put those years to very good use. As a deafblind person, she was a curiosity, a creature who could interest the public. She is my hero because she put all of this together and did extraordinary things. She attended dinner parties with powerful citizens. She wrote books. She addressed large crowds. She used these opportunities to work for charities and speak out on important issues. She was, in fact, a radical social activist.
When I was young, I thought I was alone in my rebellion against the lily-white saintly image of Helen Keller. In fact, I was not alone. I would later discover that many other people with disabilities were travelling my cynical path. Yet I have never met a person who could successfully present evidence to show that Helen was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill person. Nor have I encountered evidence that she was anything but an eternal optimist.
As such, she remains, in my estimation, a personal authority on the power of optimism, coupled with opportunity. If it is true, as she wrote, that pessimists don’t discover the secrets of the stars, or sail to uncharted lands, or open dorrs to the human spirit, might it be partly because they don’t have opportunities, and partly because they don’t do much with the opportunities they have?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


If Thanksgiving weekend can be as warm as a yellow-leafed summer,
Then surely November 11 can be as temperate as a lovely Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 10, 2011


For people with chronic pain

I wrote to the Edmonton Journal in response to their series on chronic pain. I wrote because the series was a good informational series that seemed to leave no hope at all beyond the eventual hope of a cure. In response to the letter from me to the edmonton Journal, Linda Baker wrote: Hi Wendy,
   I wanted to thank you for writing that letter about people suffering from chronic pain.  I, too, suffer from chronic pain - for 16 years now and I really
did not have any hope at all of feeling better until we moved to Edmonton and we found our wonderful doctor, Dr. Shute.  He really understood what I was
going through and didn't hesitate to offer me morphine for the pain.  He made such a difference in my life!  My hope is that there will be more research
on chronic pain and maybe some day, people will not have to suffer as they do now.  Your letter reaffirms that we shouldn't give up and there is hope for
chronic pain sufferers.  There are resources out there and we should spread the word. For too long now, we've been under-treated or not treated at all;
particularly women (it's all in our heads you know!)  My doctor in Westlock refused to have the opioid conversation with me as she asserted that I would
become addicted.  That we know is a fallacy.  We don't become addicted; we rejoin life.
Thanks again Wendy - I hope a lot of people read your letter!


And it came to pass that, after our Thanksgiving dinner,
When Mark had made the after-dinner walk especially fun for 11-year-old abbey,
And retrieved Pirate from his frolic in the bush,
And dealt the cards that weren’t a complete deck,
And re-dealt a better deck, but not quite right because the number of players kept changing,
And dealt again, then dealt again for Abbey, and for me, and for Aunty Donna,

Yes it came to pass that I promised to be grateful for Mark,
For all the things he does just because,
He can make the world a better place.
And to say that I am grateful—say it with feeling!

Thursday, October 06, 2011


It was in City Hall Not in a church That representatives of 12 faith traditions Gathered on a Wednesday night To welcome each other, To support each other, To say prayers of Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Me: “What do you think of our new lady Premier?”. I admit that I was baiting him. Him: “Oh, I guess we’ll see how she makes out. I voted for her, you know.” Me: “really?” Him: “Yes. I always said I’d never want a woman there. But health and education are important, and that’s what she was talking about. I didn’t vote for her on the first ballot, but I did the second time around.” Just one more thing to remember when I get to thinking that people don’t change.