Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Imagine how the world would be different if we began each day assuming that people we haven’t met are dying to connect with us. Elevator rides would be as lively as they are when a child boards asking to press the button, and everyone gets organized to make it possible for her to push the button. Future classmates would introduce themselves to their neighbours before the teacher arrives on the first day of class. People would get as much sympathy after their leg casts were removed as they got when others could see that they were wearing a cast. Internet dating sites might go out of business. They probably wouldn’t be needed if we were able to approach people, assuming that they are dying to meet us.

Monday, February 27, 2012


There is a place in Jerusalem where anyone can get free eye care regardless of religion. That place is St. John Eye Hospital
Built in Jordan in 1960 to serve a population too poor to get medical services, the hospital suddenly found itself in Israel when the ground on which it stands changed hands in the war of 1967. The staff at St. John are Jewish, Christian, Muslim. One thing they can all agree on—giving people back their eyesight is a good thing. And so the doctors and nurses cross borders every day, and the patients cross borders every day, and the borders are heavily guarded, and sometimes they don’t get to the hospital in time for surgery. But they keep on working, year in and year out so that people of all faiths will not be unnecessarily blind.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Reading Week is ending today. No romance happened in our family, as far as I know. Reading Week has developed a bit of a reputation—Romance Week, I have come to call it.
Last year in Reading Week one child proposed on a cliff in Kawai. Two years ago Reading Week brought a call from Stanley Park announcing the engagement of another child.
Thirty-nine years ago I didn’t get engaged in Reading Week, but I did jump on a plane for a visit to my love who was attending Acadia University in Wolfville Nova Scotia. My mother, having not quite yet come to recognize that she would no longer be the most compelling force in my life, crossed her arms in unspoken disapproval. “It’s quite a lot of money,” she observed. She was correct in that. The round trip ticket was costing over $200! But alas, since she wasn’t paying the bill, her sensible observation fell upon uninfluenced ears. It really wasn’t about the money anyway. She could see, I think, that things were about to change.
So I didn’t cross my arms when my daughter took the plane to Vancouver, and I kept them hanging loosely when my son left for Kauai. Valentine’s Day may be the poster holiday for flower shops and candy stores, but it’s the airlines that rake in the money in Romance Week. When they start buying the plane tickets, you might as well start planning the wedding.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


“It gives people hope about how to treat provocative subjects” Christopher Plumber

“Of course I’m near the end,” says Christopher Plumber, poised to win an OSCAR at the age of 82. “What I’m looking for now are parts where I don’t die in the end. I want to go on.” AN OSCAR NOD FOR CHRISTOPHER PLUMBER Plumber is talking about his role in Beginners, as an elderly man confessing to the world that he is gay. What a delight it is to listen to him, a man with a vision of a future in which he will fully participate.
I confess that I really needed to hear from somebody with Plumber’s attitude. I was getting a little bit depressed about all the fuss over what age we should begin the seniors benefits. I looked around and noticed all the money being spent by seniors. I wondered how we could ever get more of a commitment to invest in the future of our kids. How many trips to Florida, how many homes in Phoenix could be sacrificed without even touching the outer edge of deprivation?
Not all seniors can be expected to embrace the future with Plumber’s sense of wonder. But I do hope to age with a perspective that resembles his.

Friday, February 24, 2012


“Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections.” (original source unknown)

These days I find that I am the reluctant coordinator of a music program. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in, given that I like music to be good, and my own musical abilities are inconsistent at best. “Some day,” I promise myself in the spirit of hope, “we will find a music leader and I will return to the roll that suits me better, a helpful participant, a loudish singer, a generous giver of advice, much of which should probably be ignored.”
These days I hear myself clucking like the Little Red Hen who sought to bake a loaf of bread. At each step in the process she asked for help from her neighbours. I am the little Red Hen of the email generation. “Who will help me learn the music? Who will help me play the music? Who will help me sing the music?”
Sometimes, when the answers come in, I think I am the Little Red Hen, whose neighbours were far too busy for the gathering and preparation. “I would like to help you, but I’m going to Saskatoon.” “I’d like to help you, but I am hosting a party.” “Then I will do it myself,” I cackle.
And that’s where the whole Red Hen thing breaks down. In the end I am never really doing it myself. There are always people there to help, albeit fewer than we would wish. And there are days when I go off to California, or Calgary and I am not there to help. Through it all the email continues. Every week, in response, there is at least one note from Barb, a busy-but-infinitely helpful person. And every email from Barb concludes itself with this quote: “Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections.” And even though every person who gets Barb’s email also gets this message, it somehow manages to speak directly to me.
Would the Little Red Hen have been happier in the age of email?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


If I had been thinking clearly, I would not have been telling stories at the library on Family Day, given that most of my stories are crafted for the ears of adults, and there would likely be children at the library. But T.A.L.E.s had a contract to tell at libraries, and there weren’t enough tellers for all the libraries, and the T.A.L.E.S tellers always help me out when I need help. So I said I would tell for an hour at the library on Family Day. You know how it goes.
If I had been thinking clearly, knowing that most of my stories are for adults, I would have started planning months ahead of time, polishing kids stories, developing an all ages repertoire. But I was busy and anyway, I reasoned, adults like my stories because I tell them the way we tell stories to children—with repetition, and participation, and a little music to carry the tale. How different, I wondered, can children be from adults when it comes to stories? And that is how I talked myself out of spending months planning a new repertoire. You know how it goes.
If I had not suddenly panicked, I might not have written the desperate 11th-hour note to my tale-telling friends, asking what stories they would be telling at the library on Family Day. But they, sensing my panic, responded with words of comfort. Tell animal stories, they said. Take your washboard with the collection of sticks and spoons, they advised. “Tell them the story of the Paperbag Princess,” said my sister. She once heard me tell that story to adults.
If I had been thinking clearly, I would have run screaming from the room when it became clear that my audience would be composed of ten tiny tots, some rolling on the rug, others in the arms of moms who would not be in a space for listening to stories designed to entertain adults unless those stories first entertained the children. But I could hardly have reached the door without stepping on a toddler, and the husband who once promised to stay with me for better or worse decided to stay for my performance, and the clock said it was time to start the hour, and somewhere in the nether reaches of my mind’s ear, a tiny voice asked me: “What would Robert Munsch do?”
So I abandoned all the stories I had planned to tell, and we counted monkeys jumping off the bed, and then we joined some noisy neighbours in a lusty argument about who owns the moon, and then we sang about cats. Every time I left a space in a song or story we had been repeating, a child’s voice would chirp the missing words, and thus the time rolled on.
Because most of the tots were still listening after half an hour, we entered an extended version of Three Little Pigs, where my farmer’s daughter childhood memories compelled me to teach them how pigs really sound. They don’t say oink, you know. (we lost one spectator there—sent out screaming in terror, from the din of authentic-sounding pig grunts and squeals. I guess that’s why they tell city kids pigs say oink.)
If I had been thinking clearly, I wouldn’t have offered them the choice. But there was still fifteen minutes left in the hour, and I couldn’t think of another story to start, and they had been good. They deserved to be let out early, didn’t they? Would they like to be finished now?
But they didn’t want to be let out early. They wanted a story about three little trains, which would have been fine had I known a story about three little trains. Flustered, I paused for a moment. In my mind’s ear, Robert Munsch said, “Start a story about three little trains.” I knew the first few words, and so it started.
“Once upon a time there were 3 trains, a very long train, a medium-sized train, and a tiny little train with only one car. The big train had many, many cars. There were 58 cars of grain, 67 tanker cars of oil, 89 cars loaded down with cars and trucks on their way across the country, and 28 cars carrying other things. The medium-sized train had 49 cars full of people. The little train had only one car, with an engineer and a conductor.”
On and on went the story. After every sentence there was a breath, and during that breath, I listened for the voice of Robert Munsch, waited to see how the next sentence would start, and when the next sentence started, , I waited to see how it would end.
If you really think about this story, you’ll probably guess what happened and how it ended. According to robert Munsch, the stories we tell to children ten to follow patterns. There was a problem, many solutions were tried, and eventually the little guy saved the day.
“Well done,” said the husband who promised to stay for better or worse.
“Thank you,” said the library staff.
“You got off lucky,” said the voice in my mind’s ear. And so I promised myself and all libraries with Family Day aspirations that I never again would volunteer for something that might turn into a storytime for toddlers unless I had developed an age-appropriate repertoire. Robert Munsch saved my skin this time, but I don’t know for sure if I could count on him every time.

Friday, February 17, 2012


“Societies like ours are structured technologically to deal with knowledge - it's what the Internet is great for, as TV, radio and print were before it. We're not as good at wisdom.” –Rick Salutin, The Toronto Star 2012-02-17

This week I am hoping for wisdom—a shared wisdom among those of us who try to help people with chronic pain, the wisdom to direct people in pain to the right treatment at the most opportune time. . Others are also thirsting for wisdom, though each of us travels the route that starts with our own area of expertise. Lately we have been asking and answering questions about our hope and strengths groups for people who have chronic pain. The answers, so far as we can give them, are—in a word--confusing.
Q: Do our groups cure chronic pain?
A: Not likely, but then, medical treatments don’t cure it either. That’s what makes it classify as cronic.
Q: Do our groups reduce the pain?
A: In some cases we notice that people who are showing visible signs of pain in session 1 are showing fewer visible signs in session 3. More than that we cannot say. What we do know is that people report receiving benefit from attending.
Q: What pain-reducing strategies are you using?
A: We introduce some relaxation exercise, and facilitate the sharing of information among the group members. Above all, we emphasize that we are hope specialists, not treaters of pain. Most of our efforts are directed toward creating an environment where hope and other positive emotions have an opportunity to flourish. That is the work that sets our groups apart. We use our knowledge to help people gain a sense of themselves as people who have hope, people who have strengths.
Q: Why do you bother with that?
A: Because it’s hard to feel good about anything, it’s hard to laugh, it’s hard to go out, it’s hard to seek the best help, it’s hard to feel confident when you are dealing with the combination of chronic pain and the difficult things that happen to people who have chronic pain. People with chronic pain get frustrated. They get tired of trying. They get angry. Hope and other positive emotions help with all these things.

As I write this, I am aware that thousands of Albertans with chronic pain—having begun at the office of their family physician--are referred to pain specialists. Their referral is handled in a central system that keeps them on a waiting list for more than a year, always hoping that the next doctor will stop the pain. They are on a journey. Who can say for sure what any of them might do differently along the way if they had a good laugh, or an opportunity to tell stories about their strengths, or choose pictures for a hope collage? Who can say for sure what effect any of this might have on the ability of a body to make the most of the medicines the doctors offer?
All of us—helpers and sufferers alike, hope for an end to the suffering. And in thinking about the sufferers I know, I wonder how we can take the information that we have, and generate the wisdom to offer the right treatment to the right people at the most opportune time.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Me: financially speaking, I’m not as wealthy as I was yesterday.
Myself: How do you feel about that?
Me: Sounds like something a counsellor would ask. But if you really want to know, I feel happy, joyful, delighted, smug, proud, satisfied and generally pleased as punch.
Myself: Let’s have a little summary here. Your personal wealth has decreased and your positive feelings are in overdrive. What part of this do I not understand?
Me: Well, let’s start with the facts, shall we? One of my students mentioned a book several times.
Myself: And?
Me” She was using that book to help her clients because it suited her better than other, more favous books that had been recommended.
Myself: And?
Me: I thought I ought to know about that book, and the best way to know about it would be to read it.
Myself: And?
Me: Well, as you ought to know, a blind person doesn’t simply decide to read a book. Most books are in print, and some technology and a lot of luck tends to be required.
Myself: So?
Me: So I searched on line for the book in the CNIB Library.
Myself: And you found it?
Me: No. I hadn’t really expected to find it there. It’s a kind of workbook, not the sort of thing the CNIB Library is apt to have. So I searched on line in the Edmonton Public Library.
Myself: and you found it?
Me: Yes, I found it, but only in paperback, and all the copies were out.
Myself: So you put it on hold?
Me: No. I searched on line for an audio copy of the book.
Myself: And you found it easily?
Me: Well, perhaps not easily. The first page showed me ten links to the book. All of them in print.
Myself: It must have been in the next ten.
Me: No. But it did appear as link #26. It was on a website called Read How You Want. Not only was it there in audio, but it was available either in braille, or in DAISY format, a direct conversion from e-text. You know how I’ve been complaining lately about e-text? Every e-text book could very easily be converted for direct use by blind readers if only the publishers and authors would say that it should be so. So far, the authors and publishers have not been very helpful in this regard. But this book is available. Once I found it, I had it. And now I am $13.00 poorer. OH, THE JOY!!!!!

Friday, February 10, 2012


“What happens when the medical system and hope collide?” This is the question raised by MS WARS: HOPE, SCIENCE AND THE INTERNET an episode of The Nature of Things that aired February 9 2012 on CBC TV.
It all started in 2009 when Dr. Paolo Zamboni,
an Italian surgeon whose wife has multiple sclrosis, launched a small study in which favourable symptom reduction was achieved when some MS patients had simple surgery to open veins in their necks. After that, according to host David Suzuki, there began a race between hope—a phenomenon that spread among patients like wildfire over the Intrnet, and the long-trusted medical process of testing hypotheses and developing treatments. The medical establishment was directing money into long term projects—the development of stem cell research, for example. The patients, seeing a chance for some relief in the present, successfully diverted these funds to support studies of Zamboni’s so-called Liberation Therapy. It is still unclear how much of the benefit of liberation therapy is attributable to the placebo effect, but it is clear that many patients have achieved cymptom relief, often at great expense as they travelled to far-away countries for a surgical procedure which was routinely performed in Canada for other purposes, but disallowed as a treatment for the symptoms of MS.
Regardless of what the long term results may show, in the current battle that Suzuki frames as hope vs medical establishment protocol, hope is the clear winner.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


Hoepe is a personal thing. When you make a presentation about hope, people listen more quickly than you speak. In doing so, they view everything you say in context, in their own frame of reference. You start a paragraph, they finish it.
Hope, it seems is interesting to just about everybody. And so, in preparing biographical notes for up coming hope presentations to university students at Circle K, scholars in Educational Psychology 446/546, teen-age girls at Edmonton Public Schools, local people of the Lakedell Agricultural Society, patients at the Parkinson’s Society, retired teachers, grieving lunchtime learners on staff at the University of Alberta, staff at a seniors’ day program, staff at Alberta Children’s Services, and conferences for suicide prevention, Alberta College of Social Workers, and offender treatment, I offer this one statement to establish, beyond all doubt, my credibility. “wendy edey is the author of several imaginary books.”

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


I am searching for the articles that explicitly link hope and suicide prevention. It’s surprising how little I am finding. Somehow I had expected to find more. Though some of the writing mentions hope, the word is usually in the title. After that, it’s not mentioned again.
Here lies a great opportunity for the growth of hope work. People like to talk about hope. In my experience, people who are thinking about suicide like to talk about hope, not in the first moment, but later, after you’ve heard them speak of suicide, after they get past that first terrifying few minutes of declaring that they don’t have any hope. They like to come at hope from the back door, to talk about what they would do if they were more hopeful. They like to talk about it in symbols. They can tell you about a picture that could remind them of hope if they saw it first thing in the morning, and then, as an act of hope, they can make a plan to hang such a picture within sight of their beds. They can name a person who comes to mind when they think of hope.
So often, when people talk to us about suicide, and we listen, we hear only the hopelessness. Hearing that, it falls to us to introduce the idea of hope, to open up the conversation. Here lies the opportunity for hope work, to develop the hopeful ear, to listen as a hopeful person would listen, with the conviction that the hope will be in there somewhere and we’ll find it, when we search. These are some early steps that we can take to link hope and suicide prevention.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


“Ask yourself what a hopeful person would do, and do that thing.” It’s one of those things a hope specialist is apt to say, one of the things I say. It sounds just right when I say it into microphones on stages to packed audiences. It sounds good when I say it in a counselling session. And when I say it to myself, well, that’s another story.
Another story started when David and I approached the elevators in a large Vancouver hotel. These were no ordinary elevators. There was no button that said UP. There was no button that said DOWN. There was only a touch screen with a wheelchair sign on it. Now here was an opportunity for hope studies.
A hopeful person, expecting a good outcome, would have marched right over to the desk to ask how a blind person would use such an elevator, given that it had only a touch screen on which to press the floor numbers. But I wasn’t convinced there would be a solution, and we had a suitcase, and so, when the little sign popped up, instructing us to choose Elevator C, David chose Elevator C, and we boarded it as soon as it arrived.
Elevator C, like its new elevator neighbours, was no ordinary elevator. It had no rows of buttons that could let you select the floor you wanted, all the way up to 33. In fact it had only a button marked OPEN, and another for EMERGENCY. There was no need for buttons given that the elevator, having been instructed by David’s tap on the touch screen, already knew it was destined for 33.
When we got off the elevator, we looked at the situation that would greet us going down. It was no ordinary situation. There we found no UP button, no DOWN button, only a touch screen of numbers with a wheelchair symbol. When David touched the screen to indicate a planned trip to the lobby, a sign told him to wait for Elevator B. A hopeful person would have called the desk to ask what plan had been put in place for a blind person to get down. But we needed to get settled, and then we needed to go out, because the sun was shining out there.
I didn’t speak to the front desk that day. I didn’t speak to the front desk the next day. I did speak to the front desk on the third day, as I was checking out.
“The elevator has a voice feature,” said the desk clerk. “You activate it by pushing the wheelchair symbol.”
So now I know, and I am glad. But I would have known sooner—if I had done what a hopeful person would do.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


I often wondered if people named Pandora were pursued for conversations about hope?
And then someone named Pandora crossed my path.
She said, “People tease me. They ask why I opened the box and let all the bad things out.”
So I have resolved to be grateful to all the Pandoras of the world, grateful that they held onto the hope.
We don’t need all the evils that reportedly escaped from Pandora’s box, but we certainly do need the hope.