Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Houses in the 110 block on 89th Avenue are quickly coming down. One day a house has siding. The next day it’s naked. Two days later its front steps rise up from the street, leading to a pile of rubble. It takes a while to build a house, a shorter time to tear it down, no matter how long it stood there. This isn’t the first time a house has disappeared from 89th Avenue. A house can go very, very fast. One day it’s there. The next day it’s gone. Several years ago one house disappeared from the street. It was worrying to think that a house could simply go. But we all survived. But this situation is different. They’re tearing down 9 houses on 89th Avenue, the very block where Hope House stands. Even for a group of people who spend their working days focusing on hope, it’s not easy to come to work every day and not feel sad on a street where 9 houses are coming down. There are the minor inconveniences—no driving down the street, no parking. There is the total sensory involvement—the tinkle of shattering glass, the beep beep of the machine as it backs up to change position and take another bite. Now it’s a bite of the roof, next a bite of the wall. There are the challenges of working within metres of a major construction site. You do a lot of shouting. No more quiet meditations to help people deal with their problems. As if that isn’t enough, they’re also taking down the trees in 9 yards. Too bad there were so many trees in the 9 yards. Every day the view from the front of Hope House opens up a little. “I can see all the way to International House,” says Rachel. She says it sadly. It is clear that nobody at Hope House minded not being able to see International House. And then there are the experiences of a blind traveller on a street where the only predictable thing is that you can’t predict anything. Okay, I am THE HOPE LADY, so I’ll switch gears here and admit that things can get interesting. Construction guys are keenly aware that a blind person works on this block. They worry. They approach me. “Excuse me, ma’am. I’d like to give you my phone number. Then you can call me whenever you want to walk down this street. I’ll come out to help you.” Do you know how often guys want to give me their phone number? Not very often. Still, the task of finding the situation amusing can only carry you so far. Amid all the grieving and unsettling, there’s the good news. It’s good news that the university is growing. Who could be sad about that? More people want to study. More people want quality accommodation. The removal of 9 aging houses will allow further construction of the east Campus Village. East Campus Village, by all accounts, is a nice place to live. The best news is that Hope House is not one of the 9 houses. It is one of four that are staying on this rapidly changing block. With a little luck, it will still be standing when all the rubble is cleared away. “It’s in good condition,” explains the man from the university. So this old house will be put once again to the task of making the best of circumstances beyond its control. Hope House is a senior citizen among Edmonton houses. It’s celebrating its 96th birthday this year. Of course, it wasn’t always Hope House. But it’s had a long history of adapting to change. It was built for a family—a squarish 2-storey dwelling with a glassed-in sun porch topped up with a generous attic. For extra style it took on 2 second-floor balconies. Some time in the 1940’s it reached out in back to grasp a lean-to, a pantry maybe to augment its insubstantial kitchen. Some time in the 1960’s it graduated from family ownership to University owned property. It opened its doors to student renters—some legally there, some sleeping free of charge in the tiny space beside its huge basement furnace. Some time in the 1980’s it participated in the development of the Canadian Encyclopedia. One day the University of Alberta offered the dilapidated house at 11032 to the volunteers at the Hope Foundation. People with disabilities would be visiting, so the house went modern with a wheelchair accessible main floor bathroom where the pantry used to be. In the mid-1990’s it got an elevator. The attic space was opened wide enough for 6 desks. The leaning front porch was raised up a centimeter a day until it was level. One year the house got a new furnace. Two years ago it got new windows. Lucky Hope House. Somebody—no, many people—wanted it to have a future. And so they kept working on it until it was so cherished that it won the right to stand with three others on a street where 9 houses are being knocked down. It was, as they said, in good condition. There’s no getting around it. It’s sad to come to work on a street where 9 old houses are being knocked down. “We have to be reasonable,” I say in my HOPE LADY voice. “We have to take the long view. Two hundred years ago this street was a patch of bush along the river. One hundred years ago it was a farmer’s field. Last year it was a 2-sided row of old houses, most of them in deplorable condition. In two years a student will move here from Toronto, or New York, or Australia or Hong Kong and 89th Avenue, the way it will look at that time, will feel like home.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Congratulations to Lenora LeMay and her team on winning a Laurel Award for Post-secondary aboriginal Camps. . The Hope Foundation organized post-secondary camps for aboriginal students at the University of Alberta in May and November of 2011. The students, grades 5-7, came from Montana School at Hobbema and Mother Earth School, just west of Edmonton. The program was funded by. Given the right conditions, university is a good place to foster hope. It can show young people some possibilities for the future they might choose when they graduate from high school. At a glance we might think of post-secondary education as something that fosters hope because of the career possibilities it opens. But two instructors, Tracy Bear and Margaret-Ann Armour, gave interviews in preparation for the writing of this article. Coming from different perspectives, both stressed the importance of presenting the university as a place where these young students could feel that they would belong. Belonging, they said, was something the students would need to imagine before they would see a university as a place of hope for them. Tracy bear is passionate about university. As she strives to earn her third university degree, she is well acquainted with the obstacles that face aboriginal students. Tracy is Special Advisor to the Vice President academic. “We brought them to lunch in the council Chambers,” she says. We wanted to teach them how a university is run. So I asked them how many aboriginal University of Alberta students they believed there would be. Would there be 50, 100 or 1,000? They thought there would be 50, or 100. But I said No! There are almost 1,000.” Just knowing that so many of our people are on campus might be a trigger for them to say, ‘Hey, I belong here.’” Tracy remembers moving to various locations across Canada and never seeing another face and eyes that were brown like hers. She also recalls a time, just three months ago, when she went up in an elevator with five other women. All five were aboriginal, and each of them has a Ph.D. She says, “I just wish that the media and Canadian society could see those moments and see that there is so much more to aboriginal people than we usually see.” Asked why she is so passionate about the university option she says, “Coming to university has opened up a whole universe of opportunities that I never imagined. I planned to get one degree and go back home. At the start I wasn’t thinking of getting three. I went to New Zealand and I learned that there are aboriginal people around the world who are in similar situations.” At Hope Camp, Tracy taught a course in visual journaling. Using pictures as well as words, she guided the students through a process of documenting their camp experience. She hopes that future hope camps will have more involvement from some of the aboriginal students in faculties such as medicine and dentistry. She is now working with a team to develop an aboriginal gathering place at the centre of the campus. She says, “I am hoping this will be the starting place for future aboriginal hope camps. Having the students come on campus and not just see me, but seeing other aboriginal people doing all sorts of amazing things is, I think, the absolute idea of hope. It’s a fantastic camp and I love being involved.” Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour, a professor renowned for her efforts to make science accessible to a wide range of people, also mentions the need to belong. She tells a story to explain how this idea influenced the manner of her teaching. “When those students came in to the lab the group was quiet. Normally I would get things going by asking questions. But that wouldn’t be the right thing here. They need time to feel that they belong. So I talked for a while and then I went right into having them make nylon.” The process of making nylon went very well. By the time the nylon was made, the students were involved. They were ready to ask and answer questions. After that, they went on to make Bakelite. She believes it is important for all of us to understand that science isn’t something that experts do in labs. Science is happening all around us, in the natural world, in our own bodies. Asked how an interest in chemistry might be extended beyond a single camp, Margaret-Ann said, “We have to make opportunities available for lifelong learning. The more you learn and the more you find interesting, the more likely you are to want to learn more. With aboriginal students, we come with baggage. Maybe we don’t work as hard to get them interested.” Margaret-Ann’s philosophy of science extends beyond the experiments that can be done in a lab. “Science can be informal.” It includes things known and understood through observation and experience. “Sometimes we devalue this knowledge because we think of it as not being proven by experiments. I hope the students will want to go on learning more about science. I try to talk about things that are meaningful in the life of the group.” Observing the group like any scientist worth her salt, Margaret-Ann noticed that “The group did a wonderful job of making nylon. Nobody did anything they weren’t supposed to, nobody spilled anything. I noticed that they had good hands.” When she mentioned this to their teachers, she was told that many of the students would have had experience making bannock. Hope is different things to different people. A post-secondary hope camp for young aboriginal students is one way that the Hope Foundation, working with partners, can foster a sense of boundless possibility, create a feeling of belonging, and ultimately offer a key to a future filled with hope.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Whenever I have a birthday, something I experience once every year or so, I am reminded of 2 things. First, I recall how much I like chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Second, and this is a recent development, I recall how I used to sit in grade school and calculate the age I’d be at the beginning of the 21st century. This, of course, was a fantasy. I did not, in practical terms, believe I could ever be that old.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Peter Lougheed died last week. Though many people remember him for many things, in recent years it has not been possible for me to hear his name without recalling the summer I helped to make him Premier. It was the summer of 1971 and I was 17 years old. Voters in our riding, Sedgewick-Coronation, had voted Social Credit for as long as they could remember, and they weren’t about to change their votes for some upstart lawyer from Calgary. Our local town was called Lougheed, named after Peter’s grandfather, and my folks thought it was time for a change. My dad looked around the village of Lougheed for a candidate to run for the Progressive Conservatives. Finding one, he and a few others put the wheels in motion. Mom was designated as full time volunteer at the election office. I was designated as cook and bottle washer. We were farmers. Summer was the time when there were men to cook for. Early that summer peter Lougheed announced that he would be kicking off his campaign in Lougheed. My family was over the moon. “Write a song,” commanded my parents. “We’ll have a parade.” So I wrote a song, to the tune of Has Anybody Seen My Gal. My song said, Herb Losness For The Lougheed Team. “Call up Gail,” commanded my parents. Gail was my best friend in high school. She was going to be a nurse. I was going to be a social worker. Her home town was Hardisty. Peter Lougheed’s grandmother was a Hardisty before she married a Lougheed. Gail and I were about as geeky as two teen-agers could be. Geeky was what they wanted. Both of us loved old-fashioned music. Our moms were handy with the sewing machines. Soon we were outfitted in Conservative colours, orange hot pants and blue tights. I got out the old accordion. Gail and I climbed onto parade floats singing Herb Losness For The Lougheed Team. For fillers, we sang a Johnny Cash song about the disintegration of a musical group with conflicting political leanings. Late August found us standing in a crowd of thousands on the parking lot of the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Other constituencies had sent singers for their own songs. I pumped up the accordion and we shouted ours over the din. Then we all went inside, far too many of us for the fire regulations, to cheer wildly at anything and everything Peter Lougheed said. It was election fever at the pitch. Election day arrived. The people of Sedgewick-Coronation voted Social Credit. The rest of Alberta voted for Peter and the Conservatives have reigned ever since. Later that year, I turned 18 and earned the right to vote. So far, that is my only experience working actively on a political campaign. For Gail and me—both of us volunteer church pianists in later life, it’s a memory that never fails to bring a good laugh. And though you might wonder about the ethics of enlisting help from campaigners too young to vote, I don’t think I felt abused. Just amused, and involved.

Friday, September 14, 2012


fLast night, when I couldn’t sleep, I got to thinking about reading. That is, I was thinking about all the reding I do these days, now that I am so much accustomed to insomnia. The older I get, the less soundly I sleep. There was a time when I was not a night reader. It was a time having insomnia meant that I was worrying about something. My bedroom would be crowded with noisy characters from my day life, nudging me, calling to me, chiding me, giving me instructions. I’d wake exhausted, not at all ready to go into the world where I’d have to face them in person. But over the years I have learned to worry less. Peculiar then that I should also sleep less. These days insomnia doesn’t mean anything at all, except that I am not sleeping. I might be feeling back pain, or bladder urgings. I might be hearing songs in my head. I know that I am not alone. All over the city people are tossing and turning. Others of my age speak also of this phenomenon. Some of them take sleeping pills. Some of them play computer games, or watch television. Some of them read technical journals. I know a fellow who practices the piano. As for me, I think of calling up the people I know, the ones who might be up in the night. “Hello, it’s Wendy,” I’d say, as casually as if I were calling in mid-afternoon. But I value my friends and relatives. How terrible would it be to interrupt an occasional good night’s sleep—if they were having one? And so, instead of calling somebody, I plug in the ear phones and listen to a recorded book. Fortunately, there are many audio books to hear these days—so many that I stop reading any book that does not please me—a luxury I never imagined possible in the days of more limited selection and waiting for tapes to arrive in the mail. I don’t usually keep a record of books I have read, but last night, when I could not sleep, I began to make a mental tally of books I have enjoyed in the past few months. It is not a complete list. Omitted are (a) books I forgot to put on the list, (b) books I didn’t finish, and (c) books I wished I hadn’t finished. If, some day, you can’t sleep and you find yourself reading one of these books, think of me. Heck, call me. Why not? Good-bye, Mr. Chips Author: Hilton, James; Water for elephants: a novel Author: Gruen, Sara. Big trouble Author: Barry, dave Room for all of us: surprising stories of loss and transformation Author: Clarkson, Adrienne, If these walls had ears: the biography of a house / Author: Morgan, James, 1876 Author: Vidal, Gore The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Author: Shaffer, Mary Ann How sweet it is: the Jackie Gleason story Author: Bacon, James; The onyx Author: Briskin, Jacqueline.; C'mon Papa: dispatches from a dad in the dark Author: Knighton, Ryan Volkswagen blues Author: Poulin, Jacques; Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being Author: Seligman, Martin Blue Nights Author: Didion, Joan Beyond Belfast: a 560-mile walk across Northern Ireland on sore feet Author: Ferguson, Will Small beneath the sky: a prairie memoir Author: Crozier, Lorna; Paul McCartney: many years from now Author: McCartney, Paul; Barry Miles; Irma Voth Author: Toews, Miriam; The Avenue goes to war Author: Delderfield, R. F.; Sanctuary line Author: Urquhart, Jane Lake Wobegon days Author: Keillor, Garrison.; A good man Author: Vanderhaeghe, Guy; The heart does break: Canadian writers on grief and mourning Author: Jean. Baird; George Bowering; Remembering the farm: memories of farming, ranching, and rural life in Canada, past and present Author: Anderson, Allan;

Thursday, September 13, 2012


“To a resolute mind, wishing to do is the first step toward doing. But if we do not wish to do a thing it becomes impossible.” Robert Southey This morning I sent an email—the way so many emails are sent, in a hurry, possibly with too little thought. Caution—as so often is the case--had gone temporarily into hiding, waiting for the email to be sent before appearing to issue a warning. “Be careful what you wish for,” it ought to have said. There are times when I have undersold the power of wishing. Wishing, I have often said in presentations, is for birthday candles, and Disneyland, and the times when I buy a lottery ticket—because I have some extra money, not because I expect to win. Wishing, I have thought, is worth doing because it’s fun. It’s inspirational. But as for being useful, well, that’s another thing entirely. It’s this casual, off-hand idea about wishing that has led me to wish for things. The thing I love about wishing is that it puts you in a magical place, a playful place. The easiest things to wish for are those things you utterly believe to be impossible. This morning, for example, I sent an email that said, “What I wish for now is magic spit with the power to cure. If I had that, I'd rush right over to your place and spit in your eyes.” It was meant to be a wish of comfort, a show of compassion, an invitation to laugh, a longing for the power to make something better. It was only after the email had flown irretrievably into the land of cyberspace that I paused to contemplate its full implications. Already my mouth was feeling a little dry. Is it possible, I wondered, that wishing for spit with curative powers could be the first step in getting it? Oh, I know what you are probably thinking. You’re probably wondering: Who is she to imagine the power to create magic spit with a simple wish? I know you’re thinking this because I have thought it myself. But I’ve been reflecting of late on a few wishes I made in the past—offhand wishes, wishes for seemingly impossible things. I have been remembering other wishful thoughts, and the scenarios that unfolded. Once upon a time I wished for a newspaper column. Of course, I didn’t know if I could handle a newspaper column, in fact, I was almost certain that I couldn’t. It was meant to be a whish that I would write more—the kind of writing I like to do, short writing. One time I even did a little experiment with the idea. I wrote a bit and I sent off a few packages of writing to some newspapers. Nobody wrote back to me. For many years that wish rested dormant, in absolute comfort. Then one day, not too long ago, somebody who never knew anything about the packages offered me a newspaper column—a chance to write once a month about anything I wanted. I was so surprised I almost turned it down. Panic seized me. My friends thought I was being a drama queen. “How can you say you can’t do it?” came the cries from around me. “You’ve been writing a blog for six years.” Coincidence? Maybe. Then there’s this other once upon a time—one that happened a bit earlier. I used to wish for an honorary degree. It was such a ridiculous wish that I felt perfectly safe in saying it out loud to lots of people. I said it for years and it got a good laugh wherever I said it. It was meant to be a wish to be freed of the ethical imperative to correct every person who mistakenly referred to me as Dr. Edey. But one afternoon somebody I had never met called me up to say that I had been chosen to receive an honorary degree. He wondered if I would accept it. Panic seized me. For a few unprecedented minutes, I was utterly without words to reply. No doubt the caller was having serious reservations about my ability to make the required acceptance speech. My friends thought I was being a drama queen. “How can you say you can’t have it?” cried the voices from around me. “You already got it. Stand up there and prove you deserve it.” So here I am, the bemused holder of an honorary degree, looking toward September 24--my first column copy deadline, acknowledging that I wished for both a degree and a column without fully contemplating the consequences of having either. Add to this the burden of having wished for magic spit with curative powers, and a few thousand other impossible things, and you can see why I might be feeling a little bit on edge, a little cautious about making wishes. But what could be more ridiculous than to give up wishing? For how can we possibly envision outcomes beyond our known limits if we prevent ourselves from wishing for them?

Sunday, September 09, 2012


Some things last longer than you expect them to. So it is with the wear-it-around-home sweater I call my homey sweater. My homey sweater doesn’t look like a sweater that wood last. Woven from some mysteriously stretchy yarn in a pattern resembling the popcorn stitch, you’d think its fuzzy edges would catch, pull and disintegrate to strings and balls. Believing I might only have it for a short time, I wore it sparingly when first it came to me. I met that sweater in September 2005, a bright, breezy September like this one. Early mornings arrived with a chill. In all other ways, that September was different from all others before and since. On the nights when I was able I drowsed brokenly on the cot in Mom’s hospital suite. Palliative Care was marked on the door sign. Every few minutes Mom would cry out and I would speak softly to her, stretching out the time, ramping down the tension, knowing it was too soon for the next painkiller. I’d read to her, tell her stories, sing songs, make promises. If she could be calmed she would rest again. I would doze again. Mornings dawning that September brought brilliant sunshine, chilly breezes. I’d lie a few moments of quiet, waiting for something to happen. When the hospital lights went down and the halls began to stir I would collect my weary self, grab a sweater from the end of Mom’s bed, and step out onto the patio. Closing the door behind me, I’d make phone calls, to Dad, to David, to my kids, to my sisters, to my brother. “A restless night,” I’d say. “We’re okay. See you later on.” Snug in Mom’s sweater, I’d hover in the ever-increasing swirls of autumn leaves, wondering how long it would be, how many more mornings I’d be here, how many mornings Mom would be here. The air was crisp, not the air of summer. Months ago I had wondered this. “We are talking in terms of weeks,” a doctor had said, back in early July. Back then, with work in its summer slowness, I easily developed the patterns of spending time. Work could wait, other things could wait. Now, with September pushing forward, promising October soon behind, people were looking for commitment from me. “I don’t know if I can be there,” I would say. “I might be there. You’ll need to have a back-up plan in case I can’t.” There was a back-up plan for a weeklong course I would have taught to health care staff from Manitoba. There was a back-up plan for a speech at the Canadian Palliative Care Association on September 28, and a good thing too, because that was a day when I could not make it. “Use the time you have,” I said to myself. “Stay here for the time you have.” The day when I would have been speaking on hope in palliative care was the day when we at last gathered up the things that had been brought to Mom’s room over the past few weeks. There were magazines and slippers, Tupperware containers, flower vases, bags of candy, packages of cinnamon buns, the accordion I had played to comfort her, assorted articles of clothing. We carried it all to the car. My arms were full. I wore Mom’s sweater out the front door, the efficient way to transport it. After so many hours spent inside, I haven’t been back in that room or on that patio since. Mom’s sweater was a white sweater, looking quite new at the time when first I began to wear it, not so old even now, though seven years ought to have dimmed the memory of how it felt to shrug in and out of it during that distant September. It’s the kind of sweater you wear, and wash, and wear, and wash and wear again. It’s light on your arms, warm in the cold, , a warm sweater that breathes, the right arm length, the right waist length. It is a comfortable sweater. I could see why she bought it, why she took it with her to the hospital. It seemed fragile when I took it home. “I’ll keep it for a while,” I said. “It won’t last long. It will be stained. It will snag. It will go to balls.” At first I wore it sparingly, not wanting to face the time when it, like Mom, would move beyond my reach. But that homey sweater has staying power. It travels about the house, perching on newel posts, hanging on the backs of chairs, resting on the back door bench, even hanging in the closet occasionally. Still reasonably clean, still reasonably free from snags and balls, it has lasted much longer than I ever expected. That sweater never minds being shrugged off wherever I leave it. It waits for a chill. “Put me on,” it beckons. “I will warm you. Use the time we have.” It’s my homey sweater.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


Sixty years ago TODAY CBC began broadcasting television in Canada. You can hear about the early days at THE BIRTH OF TELEVISION. The future was uncertain. Here’s what the politicians and executives said: It’s a big country we have. It will be very costly. We have to broad cast in two languages. People living near the border are already getting American TV and might not want Canadian content. But they started. They broadcast 3 hours each evening in Toronto and Montreal. When they were ready to contemplate new locations, they considered Ottawa, given that it was our centre of politics. “But don’t worry,” said one comentator. “we won’t be broadcasting the proceedings of Parliament.” The audience laughed. Today this little broken promise is just one more proof that we’ve never been that good at predicting the future.

Thursday, September 06, 2012


Welcome Allison! It was nice to meet you this week. What a pleasure it is for Rachel and me to have a Ph.D. student doing a group work practicum in our chronic pain group. Here we are, preparing to integrate another group leader. The great thing about having students is that we learn from them while they learn from us. Students, through their questions and their knowledge, teach us to be a little more clear about what we are doing, and why we are doing it. It’s hard to know what a student might expect a hope group for people with chronic pain to be. Group work done in a counselling setting is usually referred to as group therapy. Our work is therapy, though not direct therapy for the pain. It is therapy for the emotions and behaviours that attach themselves to the pain and make life difficult. Being psychologists rather than pain doctors, we will be using psychology to shape emotions and behaviours. . Our first stated objective is to bring people with chronic pain together in an environment that is fun and positive. The approach is rooted in the theory that bringing them together is good, that how you bring them together will matter, and that they’ll have more power against the pain in a fun and positive place than they would in other places. We’re expecting 8 participants. They will come to us for 2 hours on 6 consecutive Tuesday afternoons. Some may stand up or lie down because sitting is so uncomfortable for them, while others will sit peacefully and wait to be reminded that it is time for a break. Some may be very angry while others will say that they are grateful. Some may want to talk all the time while others might have to be addressed directly if they are to say anything at all. But all of them will have considerable experience with pain. Their pain is physical. Most of the people registered in this group were referred by pain specialists—experts in the art of medical remedies. The key word here, when you think of remedies, is chronic. Conditions are labelled as chronic when there is no cure. Chronic pain is persistent, resistant, insistent. It is as confounding to physicians as it is to sufferers. It refuses to go away when you bombard it with drugs. It sneers at you when you try to exercise it away. It turns you into a recluse, a grouch, a whiner. It drives your friends away and frustrates your relatives. Chronic pain scoops up your hope and bashes it against walls. When you search for a cure, it tells you to accept your condition. When you resign yourself to letting it win, it accuses you of being lazy. It blames you for being the cause of your own decline. When you get right down to it, chronic pain is not some little thing. It’s a big, big thing. That’s why professionals from many disciplines are experimenting with a variety of options. One option is a hope and strengths group. The group you will be helping to facilitate, Allison, is our 12th hope and strengths group for people with chronic pain. You’d think we might be getting tired of it, but we aren’t. Rachel and I have learned quite a lot along the way, as anybody would, repeating a process so many times. One thing we’ve noticed is this: you have to work on the hope and strengths before you work on the pain. When you bring together people who have chronic pain, chronic pain expects to be the elephant in the room—not the normal unmentioned elephant, mind you, but the big elephant that takes up all the attention. Everybody turns to look at the elephant, to talk about the elephant, to recount battles with the elephant, to curse the elephant. Left unchecked, the elephant tramples everything in its path. Suffice it to say, it’s not much fun paying attention to chronic pain. It’s not very hopeful either. So we are going against the tide when we promise to create an environment that is fun and positive. Having learned this the hard way, we carefully budget our attention—more paid to fun and positive at the beginning, more paid to pain later on. We’ve noticed that chronic pain withers a bit in the face of fun. Anything you can do to wither it before you address it has got to be good. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, but after you’ve made some space for the fun to grow, it’s hard for even the most intrepid elephant to trample it completely. Fun, though, is only part of the picture. If we wanted only fun, we might simply take the group to a comedy club and measure the impact. An environment that is fun and positive has more than just fun. It has the feeling that things can happen, that all hope is not lost, that more is possible. This is where our hope and strengths strategies and tools come to work. These are the tools and strategies you will be observing and using as we make our way through the six sessions. Using pictures and stories and modified language, people will identify themselves first as having hope, as possessing strength, as the bearers of possibility. These are the selves they will bring to our later discussions about ways of responding to the pain and all the complications it causes. We dare to hope that you will enjoy the group time as much as we do. We like to watch the people blossom, to laugh with them, to hear their stories, to see the pictures they choose for their collages. We like to learn when they teach us everything they know about dealing with chronic pain. Collectively they have a lot of wisdom about maintaining the personal relationships they cherish, and finding ways to re-imagine their lives. We like to see how much they enjoy working with our hope and strengths tools We like the idea of having a student. We have worked hard to establish a program that could gain the respect of physicians and teaching institutions. Being able to offer a place to a student is an indication that this work has been worthwhile beyond its benefit to the group participants. We are looking forward to working with you Allison.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


This morning I heard a song sung by Jane Doe with backup vocals and piano by sarah McLachlan and her band. Jane Doe and I were sharing a seat on the LRT. “I will rmember you,” sang Jane. “Will you remember me?” I expect that Jane was hearing Sarah in her earbuds. I was hearing only Jane, Jane singing a solo on the train. I was careful not to turn in her direction, lest she realize that I had heard, lest she might suffer, for the whole day and maybe the entire week, the embarrassment of knowing she had been heard. . Meanwhile, my cerebral cortex went to work, pulling up the sounds I imagined that Jane was hearing. “Don’t let your life pass you by,” Jane sang softly, smiling as she sang. The train rolled on. By the time I left my seat, I wasn’t hearing Jane anymore. But I still heard Sarah. An early morning concert for me and Jane, all for the price of a train ticket. For Jane, whose real name I do not know, I hummed as I walked the path to Hope House, “I will remember you.” It was a good day for singing to yourself. It’s the first day of class. Most of the students and some of the professors are paying more attention to the challenge of figuring out where they need to be than they are to the noises made by the people who pass them on the sidewalk. So I comfort myself with the belief that nobody heard me singing. “Weep not for the memories.” Anyway, it wasn’t really a solo. Sarah was backing me up.

Monday, September 03, 2012


Yesterday was Apple Pie Day. Telltale clues were wafting up from the kitchen. Even as I snuggled my head under the covers in a last ditch attempt to be warm enough I could hear the thrump of the rolling pin on the counter, the thump of the flour canister, and the tearing of the parchment. The clink of the measuring cup against the side of the bowl was the final message. “Up you get, Girl. It’s Apple Pie Day.” The guy in the kitchen was David. David makes the best pastry of anyone I know—except my sister Sandra whose pastry is about as good. Both of them are using Mom’s recipe. Mom used to make the world’s best pastry. They’ve got big shoes to fill. My job on Apple Pie Day is to cut up the apples. Some are hail damaged. Some have been touched in places by the fangs of wasps and beaks of birds. But all are tart and firm and tasting like pure joy. All winter we’ll be celebrating the forethought of this day. The possibility of it brightens the future. The first of our pies will go across the street to Ed. He and Sharon will be profuse in their thanks. For at least an hour they’ll be glad they have that apple tree. An apple tree is a mixed blessing. We used to have an apple tree back in the other house. It came to us quite innocently. We looked at a square of grass in the front yard. I said, “Let’s get an apple tree. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few apples?” So we got an apple tree, and it was nice too, the first year when there were a few apples. After that the season became a kind of tyranny of abundance, apples on our heads, apples on the ground, apples for the world. We reached out to the community, the way you do in times of crisis. “Take apples,” we said. “Take more apples.” David learned to make excellent pastry. “Take apples for your friends,” we said. Then we moved. David was the one who wanted to move. I was a bit inclined toward nostalgia. “We’ll take your peonies,” he said encouragingly. “We’ll take the anemones. We’ll plant new tulips, new lilies. We can get an apple tree.” It truly was hard to leave so many beloved plants behind, but we did the best we could. We took the peonies and anemones. We planted new tulips and lilies of gorgeous variety. The question of the apple tree hung in the air. “Let’s walk the block and see who has an apple tree,” I said. This, I suspected, was my chance to make a better decision. This, I hoped, would be our chance to make a neighbour truly happy. Ed has a big apple tree. It’s offerings come to our house by the bucketful. The job of cutting the apples is a good job. You nibble the bits left around the core. You smell the cinnamon. You pour the apples into David’s excellent pastry. Then you smile. You’re glad you got up this morning. You’re glad Ed planted that three. It’s never really clear whether Ed is glad he planted that tree. “Take as many as you want,” he says. “Pick ‘em up off the ground if you want,” he says. “Here’s a ladder if you want to climb it for the higher ones.” He never asks for a pie, but the sharing of this bounty has become a tradition as regular as summer turning to fall. Ed planted that tree long before we met, probably about the time when we planted our own tree back at the other house. Each of us was looking for a few apples to enjoy. What neither of us knew at the time, but have since learned is this: once those apples get growing, it takes a neighbourhood to love an apple tree.


I am hoping Obama will start talking about hope again when the American Democratic convention gets going this week. I am waiting for it, listening with a pricked ear for the mention of it in the mainstream media. To tell the truth, I’ve really missed hearing about hope lately. We’ve been hearing less about hope than we did four years ago. I am not party to any information that would explain the change. Did the advisers suggest that talking about hope would not be helpful? Is it because people sneered at the explicit mention of hope? Is Obama less hopeful than he was, given a four-year dose of reality? I listened for explicit talk of hope in last week’s coverage of the American Republican Convention. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear the word. I thought this peculiar, given how effective the hope talk proved in getting their opponent elected last time. I thought maybe they’d pick it up somehow. To be fair, if hope wasn’t explicitly mentioned, there was an implicit reference that might be perceived as hopeful. There was a lot of talk about “Getting America back on track”. The tug of nostalgia was employed as a forward force. Back, it seems to me, is the operative word here. It suggests that America was once on track, and then it wasn’t. It suggests that the future will be good once you go back to where you were. The fundamental difficulty with this, from the shared perspectives of both hope and reality, is that the track you want to go back to is the track that got you to where you are now—a place you don’t want to be. Who, having thought carefully about it, would really want to take that journey again? The thing I most like about explicit hope talk is that it seems to open up the question of how things can be different, and then requires an evaluation of just how you want things to be. But you can’t stop there. You have to look back to find evidence that things can change. The evidence gives you the motivation to do what you have to do. When hope talk shaped the rhetoric of Obama, he crafted stories that would give voters hope. The mention of hope compelled him to address two populations, the population who was served by the old track, and the population who was excluded. He managed to appeal to both, and they voted for him. Talking about hope is hard work. The easy part is thinking of things to hope for. The hard part is finding the reasons that legitimize the sense of hope. But the whole thing is worth the effort because when people hope, they are more apt to act. Even the most inspired president cannot run a country alone. Like the guide on a white water raft, a president can best steer the raft through the rapids when the people take up the direction and paddle together towards it. As a hope scholar, I like to be able to watch what happens when people make an effort to employ hope in any endeavour. Given how the campaign went four years ago, I had expected to hear more about it this time. I hope I will not be disappointed.