Friday, December 20, 2013

Standing together.

Could it be that the generation gap isn't as large as we thought? I say we need the younger generation. If we didn't have them we would not be able to use the Internet. We count on them to make us modern.
My daughter says your generation doesn't send things anymore. I want to get Christmas cards in the mail. I want to get letters in the mail. What is wrong with your generation anyway?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A brief fantasy for a winters day

If I had a choice I would take all the snow and put it on the ski hills where people really want it. And I would leave the sidewalks bear and an slippery for the rest of us to walk on. So far no one has offered me the choice. But it could still happen. Couldn't it?

Monday, November 18, 2013


I got down the Christmas dishes this morning, put them on the lower shelves where they can be easily reached, put the every-day dishes up on the high shelves you can’t reach without a ladder. Yesterday I played a new Christmas CD. The day before I practiced some of the Christmas songs that never become listenable unless I practice them for several weeks—the songs I didn’t practice at all last year. Christmas, in my world it seems, is arriving early. Last year I didn’t prepare for Christmas. Well, I suppose I prepared, in the way a sleep-walker or a robot might prepare. I didn’t anticipate. I didn’t feel Christmas. Christmas came last year. It came without my help though I did whatever it was that I had to do. One day, very close to Christmas, I got a ladder and brought the dishes down. One day, I think it was boxing Day, I played a few Christmas CD’s. Baby Ben made his grand entry into the world on new Year’s eve and, as he pulled us forward into the future, I observed with relief that the whole business of holidays was finally over. I hated last November. Last November we were closing down my beloved programs at Hope foundation. I was saying good-bye to clients. I was mourning the loss of my colleagues. We were making adjustments to accommodate david’s changing health. We were paying daily hospital visits to our frail and cherished Gramma. Last November was a lousy month. December was just as bad. Last November I didn’t want to do the things I like to do. If something came up that might be fun, I did it reluctantly. I caught myself hoping I wouldn’t get any Christmas presents. It was a very strange time. But I guess I learned something a long the way, something practical and useful. A good thing it is too, for this November finds me doing painful work--hope work with groups of people who have recently lost a colleague to suicide. “what do we do,” they ask, “after we accept that it is normal to feel guilt and anger?” The answer to this question is not clear to me. I suppose there really are no rules to govern it. But I have, with the memory of last November fixed firmly in mind, approached these workshops with the conviction that there is no moral reason why we can’t consider the possibility of seeking out positive emotions like joy, awe, interest, inspiration, amusement, contentment, pride, gratitude, love and hope. There is no moral reason not to pursue things that delight us, things that fascinate us, things that refresh us, work that really matters. Circumstances may rob us of the desire for these things, but there is no moral reason why we must deny them to ourselves. Perhaps this conviction is helpful to others as well. My email contains a thank-you note: “Thank you so much for your wisdom, encouragement and hope on Friday. They meant a lot to us and to me personally. I had not realized that I had started to give up some of the things that I love to do until you brought it to my attention. I now know that I need to once again do the things that refresh and delight me.” When I read that note, it occurred to me that I had already started looking forward to Christmas this year. But it was the note that woke me to the realization that I hadn’t noticed the change.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Ben’s world is filled with music. The grown-ups who love him want it that way. In the future he may play an instrument, and he will undoubtedly download the songs of his choice from the Internet, or play those old-fashioned compact disks the grown-ups used to buy. He will go to concerts. That is in the future. Ben’s world is filled with music. He appears to like it that way. At this point, people sing to him every day. He sings to himself in the moment before sleep. He plays music when he plays with his toys. There is music in his house, waiting for him to choose it. There is an electric piano, books that play music, rattles that play music, a swing that plays music, a jumping mat that plays music, an exercise saucer that plays music and a music table. Granny’s house, though not so blessed with musical toys, has plenty to recommend itself. If he searches for instruments at Granny’s house he will find--with apologies to anything I might have forgotten to mention—a piano, an electronic keyboard, a guitar, an accordion, a rain stick, a box drum, a skin drum, an ocean drum, two tambourines, a kazoo, three small flutes, two harmonicas, approximately one-hundred-and-twenty combs, plus assorted spoons, and sticks. Ben may love all of these. For now, though, Ben makes his own music. The variety is not as great as it could be, but is it likely that anything will ever compare—either at home, at Granny’s, or in the finest concert venue—with the present daily joy he finds while inventorying—on hands and knees--the doorstops? Where will there ever be a more delightful sound than the daily concert played as a twangy, bouncy tune on each?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


There are times when things simply will not go as planned. Take this morning, for example. I awoke to the news that it might rain. That was bad. Rain in November is never a good idea. The weather lady said it had stopped raining. That was good, because I was planning to walk all the way up the hill to get a bus. A walk up the hill is the exsercise I need in the morning of a busy day. But when I got outside, the front sidewalk was so slippery that I had to keep one foot in the snow to steady myself on the slippery slope. So much for the planned walk up the hill. But the city sidewalk wasn’t slippery. The up-the-hill plan was back in motion. But in order to climb the hill I had to pass a bus stop. A bus was coming,. Fortunately, I had not quite reached the stop. But the bus made a sudden stop, right beside me. The driver jumped out. “did you want my bus?” What could I say? I got on the bus. “The bus is full,” said the driver. “that’s fine,” said I. “I will stand at the front since I am not going far.” But the crowd had already parted and someone had jumped up pushing people back to make a seat for me. So I sat down out of respect for all the people who had been inconvenienced. What else could I do? Some days things simply will not proceed according to plan. I would not have planned to write this on THE HOPE LADY Blog, had it not been for a thing that happened yesterday. It was a beautiful evening and I had decided to walk four blocks along Jasper avenue to catch a bus. I had to pass two bus stops along the way. At the first, a slurry-voiced man with unpleasant breath jumped to his feet to ask: “Ma’am, would you like to sit on this bench?”. I declined. Another man approached the first and asked “should I throw you in the traffic?” He declined. Then the second man asked the first: “should I throw her into the traffic?” He meant me. Just to prove it, he began to follow me. Then he passed. He was waiting for me at the next bus stop. He shouted, but did not throw me into the traffic. So I wrote about my failed attempt to get exercise by climbing the possibly-icy hill in the rain. It’s a better story than yesterday’s.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Ben: Granny, pardon me, but I couldn’t help overhearing your talking book—the one by the space guy. Granny: Oh, you mean Chris Hadfield’s Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth? It’s very exciting, isn’t it—the idea of flying through space? Ben: Yes, I guess so. But actually, what interested me was his writing about teamwork. Granny: (Isn’t that cute, not even a year old yet and he’s already thinking teamwork.) Teamwork, Ben is a lovely thing. Ben: Could we be a team, granny? Granny: Why, of course we could. Let’s make a tower out of these blocks. Ben: Sure Granny. But first I’d like to discuss the possibility of us forming a partnership that would allow me to access the cereal cupboard next to the fridge. I know that door opens all the way, but for me, it only opens a few centimetres. I feel certain that, by working together, we could solve this problem. Granny: (Your mom will kill me if I let you into that cupboard.) Come on up here, Ben Darling, and Granny will tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a little rabbit who wanted to open the barnyard gate. He pulled and he pulled, but each time he pulled on the gate, it bonked him in the nose. Then one day, a wise owl flew over and the rabbit asked him for advice. “Move to the side of the gate before you pull on it,” said the owl. “Then it won’t hit you in the nose when you open it.” Ben: Granny, what’s a barnyard gate? Granny: (You see, there’s no need for harsh discipline. All you have to do is distract them when you suspect they’re on the verge of getting into trouble.)

Thursday, November 07, 2013


The first sentence of a paragraph, as my grammar teachers used to say, prepares us for the content that will follow. These wise voices come to me across the years as I sit down to type, with my HOPE LADY fingers, a reflection on the happenings of the past week. I have been saying—no, face it I’ve been WHINING—about the terrible week we’ve had. Pity the person who casually asks: “How is your week so far?” That person is going to hear a tale of woe. Have I got a tale of woe to tell! It’s been a lousy week. Here is the evidence. There is a cold so attached to me that I fear we are permanent partners. The ground is covered with ice that makes crawling the safest way to avoid a fall. There’s a son who needs his mother’s love because he slipped on that ice and ended up with five stitches in his head. There’s a program that needs more of my time because a colleague is on stress leave. There’s a friend whose tea date had to be changed so that I could help a principal whose staff are devastated by the suicide of one of their own. There’s a plumber who has practically lived at our house lately because our heating system has decided to take a vacation. (Have you ever noticed how well heating systems tend to work in the summer?) There’s a whole night’s sleep gone forever while I kept a watch on the fireplace to ensure that the fire kept going. (How did they ever sleep in pioneer days?) All of this as we prepare for a trip that would truly be inconvenient not to mention expensive to cancel. All of this and even more has sprung to the tip of my tongue when people ask “How’s your week so far?” Why is it, I wonder, that in a bad week, the story of the badness so often steals the show? I’ve been thinking, I guess, that this has been a bad week, and that has been the first sentence of the paragraph. There are, of course, many perspectives on any given story. Here is another story about that same week, a story with a different opening sentence. Our children have chosen top-notch partners—people you’d be thrilled to welcome into your family. For evidence of this, I need only turn to my recent electronic communications. There is, for example a message on my iPhone. My daughter-in-law is out doing a few errands. If it is convenient for me, she could stop by and pick up Pirate. This will give us a couple of free hours that would have been spent taking Pirate to her house (his second home and first choice for a good time whenever we are out of town.) It is, of course, extremely convenient for me, and she knows it, but doesn’t say it. The email contains a message from our son-in-law—a man preparing to collect us at the airport some time around midnight. His refrigerator, he tells us, has been stocked with items selected to delight us: bacon, gluten free beer, chocolate milk. He hopes we are looking forward to our time with them. What he doesn’t say is that he is collecting us around midnight and will likely be up at 2:00 AM even though he is expected to be wakeful for work the next day. Now I wouldn’t want to leave things unsaid that should be said. It should be said that the electronic communications show a history of loving phone calls made by these wise children who chose top-notch partners. They called to chat, to update us on their news, to confirm plans, to ask if there is anything we need them to do. From among all the evidence, one indisputable conclusion emerges. A bad week is not such a bad week when you can count on a loving connection with children and their top-notch partners. Perhaps that should have been the first sentence of this story, but sometimes, when you sit down to reflect in writing, you don’t know what you really wanted to say until you get to the end.

Monday, November 04, 2013


Ben: Granny, would you tell me one more story about the olden days. Granny: All right Ben. The year was 2012 and the time was mid-November. Ben: Wow! How old was I?? Granny: You weren’t born yet. Ben: Prehistoric! Granny: Yes, well, you were going to be born in another six weeks or so. Ben: How did you know I was going to be born? Granny: Let’s not get into that right now. Back to the story. It was mid-November, and Granny was thinking of getting an iPhone. Ben: Mona, you mean? Granny: Yes, well, Mona. I was thinking of getting an iPhone. I didn’t know her name would be Mona. Just like we didn’t know your name would be Ben. Ben: Why didn’t you call her Ben? Granny: Because she talks to me in a woman’s voice. Did you ever hear of a woman named Ben? Ben: I guess not. Get back to the story, Granny. You mean you didn’t have an iPhone? Granny: No, not then. Ben: Then, how did you read the newspaper in the bathroom? Granny: Well, I didn’t. I had to sit at the computer to listen to the newspaper. Ben: And how did you do your email at the bus stop? Granny: Well, I didn’t. I had to wait for my email until I got to work. Ben: And how did you download music from iTunes? Granny: I didn’t. Ben: And how did you get podcasts of CBC radio programs to listen to while you waited in the doctor’s office? Granny: I didn’t. Ben: And how did you get Kindle books? Granny: I didn’t. Ben: And what kind of stopwatch did you use when you timed Grandad’s speech therapy practice? Granny: I didn’t have a stopwatch. Ben: And how did you borrow audio books from the Edmonton Public Library? Granny: On CD. Ben: Oh my! How primitive! If Mommy phoned you on a weekend, and it had just snowed, how did you show her the snow? Granny: I didn’t. Ben: What kind of pocket calendar did you have? Granny: I didn’t have a pocket calendar. I kept the calendar on my computer. Ben: Where did you keep the pictures and videos of me? Granny: I didn’t have any pictures of you. You weren’t born yet, remember? Ben: Oh yes. But wait a minute. The year was 2012. It was so long ago, so long ago that I wasn’t even born yet. You couldn’t read the newspaper in the bathroom. You couldn’t Facetime us to show us pictures of the snow in Edmonton. You didn’t have a stopwatch. You only did your email at a desk. And, just imagine! You couldn’t even make a phone call! Granny: What are you talking about? Of course I could make a phone call? Ben: Oh boy. I don’t think I’ll ever really understand history.

Sunday, November 03, 2013


Pirate: I want to go for a walk. Me: Okay. But it snowed, you know, and it’s cold out there, you know. Pirate: I want to go anyway. Me: Okay. Pirate: (1 minute out) I don’t like the snow. Me: Me either. Pirate: (1.5 minutes out) I want to go home now. Me: Me too. And the lady on the radio said: To increase your stamina, just increase your exercise time by ten percent perday. 180 seconds round trip today 198 seconds tomorrow 217.8 the next day 239.5 seconds the next day 263.4 the next day Wow!!! We’ll be upto a 5-minute walk in no time!!!

Saturday, November 02, 2013


In the world I would like to see, people in responsible positions would be able to distinguish between those who have adjusted to disabilities, and those whose disabilities have been cured. If they could make this distinction, they would see the need for accommodations, and they would act differently. Of those who have adjusted they would ask: “What more can I do to make your life easier?” To those who have been cured, they could say: “Well, I guess you don’t need me any more.” Over the years, as disabilities have presented themselves to us, our family has become the poster child for adjusting to disabilities. We have made pleading phone calls, devised work-arounds, researched possibilities. Take it from me, a disability that has been adjusted to has not been cured. It is present morning, noon and night, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. I find that professionals and experts tend to think of adjusting to disability as something that is done once. But actually, it is done every day, a constant process of making small and large modifications to compensate for the privileges the disability takes away, the privilege of easy movement, of using services, of casually deciding to take a walk and taking it. A person who can manage steps with difficulty is better off going out than staying at home. But he faces an organizational challenge every time he approaches a front step that has no railing. A driver whose reading skills are not sophisticated is judged competent to drive and may make a living doing so. But he must search for alternate parking when simple meters are replaced with “smart meters” that require the ability to read a screen and respond to detailed commands. A competent blind traveller would be foolish to stay home and not participate in the community. But she must take the chance of walking on a red light when the signal is designed for sighted people only. An adjustment made one day is made again on the next, and the next, and the next. In the world I would like to see, the simple parking meter which operated on change would not have been thoughtlessly replaced by the complex SMART meter that can only be operated by people with sophisticated reading skills. Every new home would be build with railings on its front steps. Every crosswalk that has a changing light would have an audible signal. These modifications are all completely possible in our society, but it would take a lot of energy to advocate for them. People who have adjusted to disability spend a lot of effort adjusting on a daily basis, leaving them with limited energy to devote to advocacy. In the world I would like to see, people in responsible positions would take up the challenge of making changes without the force of advocacy to propel them. Would they be more inclined to do so if they appreciated how much energy it takes to adjust to disability? Would they be more inclined if they understood the difference between the daily lives of those who have adjusted to disabilities and those whose disabilities have been cured? So tell me that history has proven that the changes which have benefited people with disabilities have come about only when people with disabilities have put aside the time and energy to fight for them. Tell me there is no way that is going to change. Tell me this, and I’ll admit that you are probably right. But I am THE HOPE LADY after all, so I continue to hope that things can be better. Most improvements start there—with the hope that things can be better. In the meantime, we’ll adjust. Practice makes perfect. We sure do spend a lot of time in our family these days understanding the impact of, and adjusting to disabilities.

Friday, November 01, 2013


Sometimes the universe will cooperate in the most surprising ways. Sometimes it will even do this for me! Because of this, I am currently reading, and fully enjoying a book: Miller, W.R. & Rollnick, S. (2012) Motivational Interviewing, Third Edition: Helping People Change published by The Guilford Press The cooperation of the universe began in early October when one of the participants at a hope workshop I facilitated for the BC Therapeutic Recreation Association came forward at the break to ask me if I was familiar with motivational interviewing. I tucked the question away, knowing I might never get around to checking it out. Nearing the probable end of my paid working life, I find myself a little less motivated to keep up with current literature than I once was. Then, in mid-October, my sister mentioned that patrons of the CNIB Library could get free memberships in Book Share. I tucked that idea away also, knowing I might never get around to checking it out. For the first time in my life, due to amazing technical advances, I actually have ready access to more books than I can read given the limitations of a 168-hour week. But it came to pass that I did investigate Book Share, and they had the first book I searched for, Motivational Interviewing. Motivational interviewing is “A collaborative conversation style for strengthening a person’s own motivation and commitment to change.” It is a person-centred approach, one that suits my way of doing things. Noting the fruitless hours we spend trying to convince others to do the thing that seems most obviously right to us, the authors wisely observe that “People are more likely to be persuaded by what they hear themselves saying.” The book is a guide for people who want to conduct better conversations, conversations that help people affirm for themselves what they want to do without making them feel as if they’ve been cut adrift by a counsellor who has no ideas. People are more likely to be persuaded by what they hear themselves saying. I know a lot about the truth of this statement. In counselling, clients do much better on those lucky days when you can guide them to chart their own path for change. And in my life, I have had the unfortunate experience of saying the same thing over and over in attempt to convince others, only to find that I have fully convinced myself of it. A long time ago, my good friend and Mentor, Ronna Jevne asked me to consider an idea that stopped me in my tracks. “Have you ever noticed,” she asked curiously, “that when something isn’t working, we tend to do more of it?” Of course the idea was, in itself, ridiculous. When something isn’t working, don’t we give up and try something else? Apparently not if we believe that the thing we are doing ought to work. In the months following my conversation with Ronna, I watched myself closely to see if I ever did more of something that wasn’t working. The truth refused to hide. It was in my house. A child would leave his socks on the floor. “Pick up your socks,” I would say. The socks might remain on the floor. “Pick up your socks,” I would say, louder this time, in case he had not heard. “In a minute,” he would say, and the socks would remain on the floor. “I told you to pick up your socks,” I would say in a very loud voice, as if the child’s hearing and memory might both have inexplicably been impaired. The truth followed me into meetings. “I think we should abandon the idea of celebrity hosts for our fund-raising,” I would say. “We could use our own board members and it would mean more.” The meeting would continue, with participants suggesting more and more celebs. ‘I think we should consider using our own board members,” I would say, a little louder, in case there might be a hearing problem, or possibly some difficulty understanding the language I had used the first time. And, thus I would go through life utterly convinced that the socks ought to be picked up and the board members ought to host. Funny how the world didn’t see things the way I did. Many years have passed since Ronna Jevne observed my work, or shared time at a meeting with me. Still, at least once a week, at home, in meetings, while I am supervising students, while I am counselling, she pops up on my shoulder and whispers in my ear: “Have you ever noticed that when something isn’t working, you tend to do more of it?” She said this to me just recently when I was feeling a little bit tired of it all, a little bit bored, resting on the theory that it is not worth my time to follow the latest book trends in professional practice. Funny how I never get tired of hearing it, never get tired on wondering what I ought to change. So now, I have access to audio copies of many professional titles in Book Share, and this fine, wise and practical book on motivational interviewing to enjoy. Sometimes the universe cooperates, and sometimes it takes a mentor, present or remembered, to get it going.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Master Corporal Chris Downey reflects on rehabilitation: “I made a promise to him not to waste a minute of my life for the gift he had given me.” “I’ve had the right support around me... The first day I was able to tie my own shoe again they made it seem like I’d cured cancer.” Chris Downey is racing to the South Pole, 336 Km with Team Soldier On. Three years ago Chris sustained major damage to the right side of his body in a bomb blast in Afghanistan. Hear an audio clip at RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Here is one difference between working with seniors—as I so often do now—and working with younger people. When you work with younger people, you are supported in hope by the unspoken assumption of possible continuous improvement. When you work with seniors, you are challenged to have hope while, at the same time, acceptung the premise that people may already have experienced the best moment of their lives. The hopes of older people are not so much about achievement. It is less about what they hope to do and more about how they hope to be treated. It is less about who they hope to meet and more about how those they already know will show loyalty to them.

Monday, October 21, 2013


I walked the length of Dawson Park today. The round trip took nearly an hour. The weather was perfect and I thought that I should do this more often, since the walk in the park is a clear path, extremely easy to follow with a white cane. In fact, I would do it more often if only it were a little easier to get into the park. The problem is not distance. I live a few dozen yards from the trailhead, but the path through those few dozen yards is extremely difficult for a blind person to navigate. Anyway, I had completed most of the walk and was just beginning to worry that I might get lost going home when a jogger approached from behind and slowed to my pace. Don’t be proud, said a small voice inside me. “If he offers to help you get out of the park, let him do so. Be careful not to brush him off. “Hello,” he said. “Hello,” I said. “I have a question for you,” he said. “What is it?” I said. “Well, you’ve probably never been asked this before, but, well, you seem to be a bit blind,” he said. Don’t brush him off too quickly, warned the little voice inside me. Cut him some slack. He probably hasn’t had a course in discussing the degrees in vision in appropriate language. Agree with him. That will keep the conversation going. “A bit blind,” I agreed, managing a small smile, hopefully inviting but not fake. “Well, I was just wondering if you ever thought of any spiritual treatment for that,” he said. Don’t brush him off, cautioned the little voice inside me. This may not be the time to tell him that your blindness has persisted for sixty years, despite the fact that hundreds of strangers have approached you offering you salvation. “I have a satisfying spiritual life,” I said. “Okay,” he said, and hurried away in the direction of the parking lot. Did he actually leave? I shall never know, but I didn’t hear any cars starting. I couldn’t shake the suspicion that he was watching me from a distance as I struggled to look competent while I threaded my way awkwardly home through the maze-like configuration of paths, curbs, gravel patches and lawns. Could it be that I still have a few things to learn about effective communication? Next time, maybe, just maybe I will be smart enough to say, “I have a satisfying spiritual life, but would you mind giving me an arm to help me out of this park?”

Saturday, October 19, 2013


My life, this fall, has been blessed by the presence of curious people. There’s Derek, a City University student who works at Walk In Counselling, the place where I volunteer on Thursday afternoons. “There is a time in counselling when you make a shift and the whole picture changes,” he says. “How do I know when that time comes—the time to stop exploring the situation and change gears? What are the signs I would see? What should I do when I see them?” There’s our almost-ten-months-old Ben, who suddenly, irreversibly, has discovered the secret of propelling forward on hands and knees. “What is it,” he babbles in words that could be mistaken for ba-ba-ba, nose inches from the floor, “that you keep behind the toilet anyway? Why don’t more of the people in this family spend time hunting the fascinating dust bunnies that hide in the deepest corners of closets?” There are all the friends who recently have asked, “Who would you like to see win the municipal election?” There’s Jung-Suk, the recently hired Director of Communications at the CNIB where I currently counsel. “What can you see,” he asked, the moment I crossed his threshold. My favourite thing about curious people is that their curiosity makes me wonder. Because of them I have tried harder to understand the municipal election. I have given serious consideration to that magic moment in counselling when you see what might be possible and then reach out to reveal it. I have renewed my own curiosity about the corners of my closet. And I have begun to speculate about what I might have written about Jung-Suk if, when I first entered his office, I had actually “seen” him.

Friday, October 18, 2013


I voted in the Edmonton municipal election yesterday. And even though I cannot see to read a ballot, my vote was cast in perfect privacy. I went to City Hall, sat down at the Automark voting machine, and listened as the machine read me the operating instructions. I selected a mayor from among six choices, a councillor from among 16, and a school trustee from among two. Then I put my ballot in the box, thanked the staff, told them how thrilled I was to be able to vote in privacy, boarded the LRT at Churchill Station and hummed, for the sheer joy of it, all the way to the university. More than any other level of government, our city has made voting easy for people who cannot use a print ballot. In future, we will only be voting once every four years instead of once every three years. This change will give our elected officials more time to work for us. I support this change, but I hate to give up even one chance to vote in such a delightfully inclusive manner.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


“And in my mind I still need a place to go, All my changes were there.” –Neil Young “The next time we go to Vancouver,” I said to David, “I want to go to Jericho Hill School.” “We already went there once,” he said reasonably. There was no denying the truth of it. For him, once had apparently been enough. We did go there once, back in 1974, when I was nearly 21 and the school was almost closed and the principal, smiling and gracious in a manner that seemed totally foreign to my memories of her, sized up david, glanced at my wedding ring and said to me, “Well, it seems that things have turned out rather well for you.” With that cogent summary, she ushered us off the property. Unspoken by David was the question: “Why would we bother going there again?” For this I had no real answer, only that I wanted to go. Our encounter with the principal was my last memory of the school, and this was a thing I regretted. For I had felt like a stranger in her commanding presence, a guest, unwelcome to explore the rooms I had known so well, or to speak unsensored of my experiences. A part of my life was closed off to me. I wanted to go back, to wander in the time before the principal tied my life into a neat bow. In my mind’s ear, Neil Young sang one possible explanation for my wanting: “All my changes were there.” I was a tearful, homesick 11-year-old Alberta farm child when I first went there in the fall of 1965. She was not the principal at that time. Mine had been the world of curling rinks and grain elevators, of chicken coops and hay lofts, of spring seeding and fall harvesting. I’d had never ventured beyond the safe shelter of loving parents. The house I had always known clearly remembered the days of kerosene lighting and outdoor bathrooms. In 1965 it still did not have a telephone. Vancouver BC was an unimaginable place. It might have been Wonderland, or the Land of Oz, for all I knew of cities. But Vancouver had a school for blind children. So that is where I was destined to spend my first few teen-age years. The Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and the Blind was not a single building, but rather a hodgepodge of structures, old and new, terraced and strewn on a steep hill leading up from the ocean at 4100 West 4th Avenue. At the bottom of the hill were the dining hall—half condemned and smelling eternally of cabbage boiled too long with ancient Brussells Sprouts, the office where we collected our allowance on Friday afternoons—three quarters condemned and creaking under every footfall, and the gymn—one ancient freestanding room, not condemned, though possibly soon to be. Part way up the hill stood the bowling alley where I learned to bowl badly, the swimming pool where I learned to swim sort of, and the Braille Building which housed the school for the blind, along with the dormitories for the junior blind girls, the senior blind girrls and the senior deaf girls. Over to the west was the building that housed the infirmary where the nurses soaked my boils, the auditorium where we put on plays, the residence for the junior deaf kids and the junior school for the deaf. Further up the hill were two buildings that housed the senior school for the deaf, and the home economics and industrial arts classrooms for the blind. Up even further stood the dorm for the senior blind boys and deaf boys. In the three years I spent trudging up and down that hill, I never climbed up to that level. The boys’ dorm was strictly off limits for us girls. In 2013 I was determined to go back there, to climb that hill again, even though I had heard that the condemned structures were gone and the Braille Building had been demolished. “I just want to walk on the grounds,” I said to David. So we boarded a bus sporting a sign that said #4 UBC and got off at Jericho Beach Park. The hill I remember has not changed. For some strange reason, no buildings have taken the places of the old. The swimming pool stands where it always stood and the sunken garden that separated it from the Braille Building remains as it was when I first knew it, nearly 50 years ago. I could face north and conjure up the mournful cries of the foghorns that were ever present when I woke on winter mornings. I could face south into the bush that backed our classrooms. David and I could descend the paths I trod in the rain to breakfast, lunch and dinner. We could take the path behind the pool and climb the 70 steps to the home ec room, now used for other purposes. We could even ascend those last two flights to the boys’ dorm. When we got to the top and surveyed the scene below, a gentleman asked if we needed directions—a reminder that this area might still be beyond limits for me. I left that place in the spring of 1968. My condition was much as it had been on the day I left home—tearful, not really wanting to leave. I was the strange inhabitant of two worlds that did not touch, except through me. Each world was separate and complete unto itself. Both of them were home to me, yet I could not dwell simultaneously in both. Three years is an eternity in the life of an 11-year-old. During that three years I had given up my Barbie dolls. I had expanded my body into bras and compressed it in panty gurdles. I had been kissed and learn go-go dancing. I had been confirmed in the Anglican church. I had visited the home of people wealthy enough to have a private swimming pool. I had slept in the same house as a drug addict. I had sold Girl Guide Cookies door-to-door. I had learned to read braille music. I knew jokes I could not tell my family. I had read To Kill A Mockingbird. I had sat upon a rock until my clothes were soaked by a rogue wave of the incoming tide. I had seen the Supremes perform at the Cave. I had eaten octapus at the Seven Seas buffet. I had drunk Shirley Temples. I had learned to iron. I could spell words in sign language. I had been lonely. I had been loved. I had been adopted by the families of friends I still cherish to this day—friends who could not possibly imagine themselves in the life of an alberta farm girl. It did not matter that the buildings were gone. A thousand insignificant details flooded my mind as we wandered up and down the hill. I recalled how the chairs were arranged in the dining hall, the shape of the pitchers that held the morning hot chocolate and the hooks where we hung our dripping coats. My ears heard the music room with its seven pianos, all playing discordantly from their corners during morning practice. My feet approached the library wall and my fingers touched the 144 enormous braille volumes that comprised the World Book Encyclopedia, 1960 Edition. I remembered throwing crooked pots on a pottery wheel and debunking horror stories about how hard it was for blind children to cope in public schools. (I had coped in public schools for the first six grades. That made me an expert.) I could hear Miss Darwood entering each room in the hallway calling: “Good morning girls.” (what she meant was, “Get up girls.”) I could feel the tension of waiting for her to get to our room. I would shut my eyes one second before she arrived and pretend to be asleep. I could hear the thunk of feet kicking the pop machine that stood steadfast at the swimming pool entrance, sometimes stealing money, other times delivering root beer, Coke or orange. The entrance is still there, but the machine is gone. David said he could see the stain on the wall where a machine had once stood. You can visit the past, but you can’t stay there. David and I left the grounds when I had kept him there as long as I dared. The paths through the forest and along the beach were beckoning us. But as we left, I opened the door a crack, lest he should think we would never go back. “I might,” I said, “want to come here some day and sit on the lawn that slopes down from the place where the Braille Building used to be. I might want to sit there and write.”

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Nine months have passed since we launched an effort to provide a gluten free diet for David. He had a sore and swollen tongue, the apparent extension of a condition whose origins could be traced back to early childhood. When the tongue specialist (who knew there were tongue specialists?) suggested a gluten-free approach, I, frankly was disappointed. I had been hoping for drugs. Now it is one thing to hope for an improvement, and quite another to hope for that thing in the face of fear. Mention drugs, and I imagined early morning reminders to “take your drugs, Dear.” Mention gluten free and the future indeed seemed terrifying. Visions of life without fresh baked buns and Saturday visits to the Italian Bakery for iced chocolate doughnuts danced in my head. There would be no more Welsh Cakes. All our future restaurant meals would involve slippery salads consumed in precarious balance on high stools at health food bars. There would be no more pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, no stuffing at Christmas. Life with a gluten free husband would exceed the worst nightmares that a wheat farmer’s daughter could conjure. “Perhaps I will learn something,” I promised myself weakly. There is one sure sign that my hope is low. You see it when I start promising myself that I’ll resort to learning. Nine months have passed, and what have we learned? · There are more gluten free recipes than you’d think. The Internet is a-0buzz with them. As with all recipes, some turn out better than others. · There are other ways to make Welsh Cakes, waffles, birthday cakes, doughnuts, Rice Krispies Squares, pyrogies, lasagna and pretty much everything else you ever ate that had gluten in it. · There are a lot of things you used to eat that didn’t have gluten in them. · There are more gluten free options at restaurants than you would think. · There are even quite a few restaurants that carry gluten free bread and offer to serve it to you. · You can get more exercise on a gluten free holiday because you walk further when you make a point of deciding whether to stay by asking restaurants for gluten free options before you sit down. · You can lose a little weight on a gluten free diet. (author’s note: you can’t lose any weight eating gluten while your spouse goes gluten free.) · And, perhaps best of all, you can learn that you are loved, because your children, your siblings, your friends, and your colleagues will go out of their way to make inclusive changes. Come to think of it, you can learn a lot in nine months!

Sunday, October 06, 2013


The passing of our friend and neighbour, Ed Pawlovich, was one of the things that made us sad this summer. We knew Ed by reputation even before we met him. Eleven years ago, on the day when we first viewed our current house and wondered whether to buy it, the owner took us out on the front veranda and pointed to Ed’s house. “Ed and Sharon live there,” she said. “They are wonderful neighbours.” We were soon to learn that she was absolutely right. Sharon and Ed made us welcome in the neighbourhood. Ed was a social guy. He worked hard, but he loved to take a break and come over for an hour of what he called ‘porch time’. This involved sitting on the steps of our veranda, petting our dogs, and chatting to us about anything and everything. He never failed to be gracious to us. Even though his flowers were beautiful, he would announce that our flowers were putting his to shame. His snow shovelling was always done before the flakes hit the ground, but if we were shovelling first, he would notice that and say he’d better get to it. . When he saw us building a crooked fence, he came right over to help us straighten it. Ed was a protector of the neighbourhood. He carried a bag on his walks and picked up garbage every day. He made friends with people who lived in the bush and because of that, he could assure us that they were doing no harm. If he noticed that things were getting out of hand, he would be the first to call the City. Ed had interesting things to talk about. Some might have called him a gossip, but people loved to talk with him and to hear what he had to say. He introduced himself to workmen as soon as they entered the neighbourhood. Because of this, he always knew what they were doing. If somebody was building a new house, Ed found out how long they thought it would take. If they were digging sewer lines under the river, then Ed was there for a tour. On our veranda, he would tell us about walking through the underground pipes. He told us stories about growing up in Riverdale. He knew how to find fresh asparagus in the bush. He never told us where it was, but he brought us some to eat when it was at its very best. Ed had a tool for everything. He taught us how to burn off weeds with a torch. He helped us lift ceramic tiles with an ice scraper and scrape off the grouting with an old brick. He had long tools for reaching treetops and short tools for tiny spaces. Once, when our electronic keyboard went silent and no tool would awaken it, he invented long skinny pliers to fix it. We and Ed travelled in different social circles, had different interests. He attended the Big Valley Jamboree. He hated politics and public meetings. He never cared for what he called ‘long-haired music’, the background softness I liked to play at parties. He wouldn’t have thanked you for tickets to the theatre. But Ed was our buddy, pure and simple. One of my favourite Ed memories was made near the end of his life, on his last day of porch time. He was sick. He was exhausted. He was grumbling. I wanted to cheer him a bit, so I smiled at him and called him a curmudgeon. This was a new word for him. After he got home, he sent Sharon out to ask me to repeat it and give her the definition. When we went to his house for ‘kitchen time’ he wanted me to sayit again and he rolled it round and round on his tongue like a shiny new treasure. These days, when we walk in the park, people stop to give us their condolences. They tell us how much they will miss Ed. They know we will be lonely without him. We are lonely, but he has left us all with some really great memories.

Friday, October 04, 2013


Pirate: I am one lucky dog! Kitty: oh yeah? Pirate: Yes. Want to know why I say I’m a lucky dog? Kitty: I suppose. Pirate: Well, you know that baby we’ve been seeing—the one that changed Wendy’s name to granny? Kitty: Yeah. Pirate: and you know how you told me that he would be chasing me around the house, pulling my TAIL, eating my food, and getting me scolded for growling at him? Kitty: yeah. Pirate: Well, I’ve seen him three times now kitty, and I’m thinking you’re wrong. Kitty: I suppose it could happen. Pirate: The first time he came to my house it was March. I guarded my food, I stayed far away from him and I curled my tail as tight as I could. He just laid around on various laps. All my effort was wasted. Kitty: and? Pirate: The second time he came it was July. I guarded my food, I stayed far away from him and I kept my tail curled tightly. He just laid on the floor blowing bubbles. All my effort was wasted. Kitty: And? Pirate: the third time he came it was September. I didn’t bother guarding my food. In fact, I didn’t even need so much of my food because of the yummy stuff he dropped on the floor for me when he sat in his high chair. When he finished feeding me, he’d sit on the floor and roll onto his tummy. Then he would raise himself on all fours, almost as if he were a dog. He looked right at my tail, gave me the most beautiful smile and said, “ehh! ehh!” I thought “Now I’d better be careful.” I’d look straight at him and curl my tail tightly. Then he’d push with his hand until he crept backwards. Every time he pushed he got fartheraway from me. He’s harmless kitty. I tell you. You ought to be more optimistic. Kitty: And what will you do when he learns to creep forwards? Pirate: Oh, I’ve got it all worked out. Every day now I put my tail behind me and practice walking backwards. Kitty: you can lead a dog to enlightenment, but can you make him think?

Monday, September 30, 2013


Summer is over. That is my final answer. Surely on September 30 the truth of it is indisputable. Never mind that the flowers of Edmonton are still out in full bloom, and the sun can take off your sweater in a matter of seconds, so fresh is the memory of warm pavement. Never mind that the wasps still buzz when we take our supper out to the veranda. Never mind that my sandals remain at the front of the shoe rack. Never mind that my birthday, only 9 days ago, was celebrated as a garden party with all the house doors agape and the guests lingering for hours on the lawn. Summer’s over, I say stubbornly. Ignore all evidence to the contrary. “How was your summer,” my friend asks me. “Complicated,” I answer truthfully, beginning, conservatively I hope, to describe all the things that prevented me from answering her question with the more customary “It was a great summer.” The list is a longish list of complications and when its highlights have been explored, it is time to move on to another topic. Those things that might have provided evidence of a good summer—even a great summer—remain undescribed. “What were ten of your favourite things about our summer?” I ask David later in the day. “Ten?” he says doubtfully—suspecting that he might be contributing to the next instalment of THE HOPE LADY Blog. “Make it five,” I blurt. No point in giving him a task too large to handle. It was, after all, a complicated summer. And I was, after all, fishing for some way of thinking that the summer might have been good. “Our trip to Meadow Lake,” he begins. I am surprised, for I have forgotten the trip to Meadow Lake. How could I have forgotten it? Late June was only three months gone. I am vaguely disappointed in myself for cutting the list from ten to five. I’ve made it too easy. Why, now that I have remembered it, I can easily name five good things about Meadow Lake. He could too, if he thought about it. He could list the perfect sand without a pebble to hurt our feet, the cool lake water, the prompt response to our call for a boost when we drained the car battery, the family of spruce grouse that delayed our trip to the beach, the ice cream stand, our shade-dappled games of Progression Rummy, the rainy day that snuggled us into the trailer for an afternoon’s reading and then turned to sunshine so we could cook our outdoor dinner. He could name these and the list would be done, but he does not do this. Instead, he rushes on. “Our week with the Haleys in Ontario,” he says, “all the people we saw in Ottawa, and the light show on Parliament Hill, and all the Sundays we spent at Mark and Tracey’s new home, and the games of dice we played on the veranda. Is that five? What would you list?” What would I list? What were my favourite things about the summer? I would list all of these. Then I would add some others—the good fortune of finding fabulous people to rent our suite, the generosity of the work crew who whipped it into shape for renting, three happy weeks of hands-on Grannying, the sense of family and the companionship of having my sister live with us throughout the summer. There were parties and picnics with my nieces and nephews, chances to hold their babies. There was the group of seniors with macular degeneration that I loved to facilitate, the people who shook off their depression and gave credit to me, the letter from the university asking me to supervise students again, my new volunteer counselling job at Walk In Counselling. There were the warm evenings on restaurant patios in Milwaukee, our introduction to the St. Lawrence Seaway, the cruise among the Thousand Islands, the sweet corn from farmers’ markets. My tongue tingled with the memory of raspberries from the patch. There were the afternoons when Lawrence mowed the lawn and trimmed the hedge. I loved the concert with The Once at the T.A.L.E.S Festival. There were stories to tell. David had been telling some of them. I loved the story about the bird who hit our window, then fell onto the veranda. It lay there for half an hour, a corpse awaiting disposal. And then, when David touched it with a shovel, it roused itself and flew off. “It’s a good thing,” he said, “that I didn’t try to put it into a trash bag before picking it up.” It might not have been able to fight back. Judging its condition too early would have been a fatal error. And I say, with that story in mind, that the summer is over, though we are, so far, having a lovely autumn. It’s a good thing I held on to the summer long enough to be able to sort through the complications and report, with evidence presented, that it was a great summer. For how could it have been otherwise, given all that happened in the space of three short months?

Sunday, September 29, 2013


FIREFLY DIGITAL “Since just after the time of the dinosaurs the folks at Firefly started producing videos. Over 400 videos in the last 10 years. The exciting thing is we’re just getting started and although the technology is changing at a rapid and exciting pace the core of our work remains the same – it’s all about story telling.” What a pleasure it can be when you come, unexpectedly, into contact with somebody who does a job exceptionally well! It can happen almost anywhere—in a bank, in a tangle of leaking basement pipes, over a wasps’ nest under a veranda, in a counsellor’s office, or in a classroom. It can even happen on a video shoot—as I discovered last week, when I worked on a video with Tracy Bennett from Firefly. I confess, my expectations were low. I have been involved with a few video shoots in the past. Some of them were worse than others. In general, I’d label them in the category of inconvenient and unsatisfying, though the resulting productions haven’t been as bad as the memory of the production. So I would not say I was looking forward to participating in an e-learning video on hope and self-care for the care-partner support programs of the Alzheimer Society. But I have been working with the Alzheimer society for many years, so I agreed to do a video, and I labelled the dreaded experience in the category of “taking one for the team.” My less-than-perfect experience with video shoots has been only partially the fault of the video-shooting process. To be fair, the topic of hope is a difficult topic to grasp and squeeze into a few cogent sound-bytes. Ask me a simple question about hope, and you’ll get a rambling answer. I am, it seems, a storyteller. In the short video format I try to focus on content. Somehow, my content rarely blossoms without the story, and the story that ends up taking first place in the video is unquestionably a story I told, but not the story I had wanted to tell. The preliminary work on the Alzheimer shoot was handled long distance. Like all the video producers who have gone before her, Tracey Bennett had no idea what a HOPE LADY was, or why she was interviewing THE HOPE LADY for an e-learning video on Alzheimer care. She called me from Halifax to find out what it is that I say to groups of family care partners, year after year after year. I admit that I couldn’t seem to tell her over the phone. “We have conversations, I said. “Spouses and adult children of people with Alzheimer disease feel more hopeful at the end than they did at the beginning. That’s my skill, constructing conversations that give people hope.” Even as I said these things, true as they are, I could feel the cloud of vaguery descending. What story was I trying to tell? It was the same old story, beginning again. In fact, I was under-stating the conversational case. The conversations I have with care partners at the Alzheimer Society are not entirely unscripted. When I sit down for a conversation with a dozen care partners, I follow a brief handout and fill in the interesting parts with my stories and theirs. Grasping with Tracy for some sort of clarity, I offer to send her a handout I use for Alzheimer discussions. In return, she sent me a draft video script. This was the point at which I began to feel that we might be on a better track. The interview guide that accompanied the script stated some learning objectives that looked suspiciously like my goals for sessions with the care partners: 1. Understand the importance of hope on the journey as a care partner. 2. Identify ways to maintain hope in the face of this progressive illness. 3. Understand the importance of caring for one’s self as a family care partner. 4. Describe when and how to ask for help. The script had only a few questions for an interviewer to ask. My answers were roughed in. I was encouraged to add to the answers, but not to change the questions. Using that script, I prepared in advance to shoot my portion of the video. Some day a video featuring me in conversation with an actress named Liana will appear on the Internet. It was made in the manner of a movie with actors, but it will appear to be the filming of an interview. To the viewer, it will appear that Liana is brimming with curiosity about hope, the experience of Alzheimer care partners, and the ever present need to maintain good mental health when you care for people who have dementia. It will appear that she has asked just the right questions at the right moments to get the story out. Average viewers will not suspect that the questions came, not from Liana, but from Tracy. There will be no reason to believe that half of the questions were asked later, then inserted into my original answers, after Tracey had heard the content of my answers to the few scripted questions that were asked of me in the first round. Nobody will guess that some of the smiling and nodding was recorded later, then added in and thoughtful pauses. They won’t know that each of the questions was filmed twice, from different angles, while the answers were only filmed once. They will think they are seeing a single interview, start to finish. That is what I would think, if I hadn’t been there to witness the process. The entire process of shooting took about 45 minutes. From this, they intend to develop a 15-minute interview. Tracy was the person who so capably managed the process. I was blown away by her intuition for adding the questions in after the answers were given. She did this on the fly, in the space of a few moments. But while she managed the process of filming the original script, she was also managing the content. She added a whole new section based on her own curiosity about something we hadn’t discussed. She and I had a conversation off camera, then she scripted questions for Liana to ask. Seldom have I had the privilege of watching someone with such a gift for hearing a story and making a story at the same time. The final product will be the joining of a hundred tiny pieces, trimmed to fit like panels on a patchwork quilt. I asked Tracy if she would be the person doing the final edit. She said she doubted it. She would be going on to do something else. She said it was very hard for her to let a project go, to trust the final edit to a person who had not been in the room at the time of filming. But she knew, from experience that the video would turn out well because the foundation was there. I didn’t doubt it. How could I?

Saturday, September 28, 2013


There are mirrors all over my house—in the bathrooms, in the bedrooms, in the hall. These mirrors do their work for others, reflecting back the image that can be altered, disdained, admired. My personal mirror is the mirror of the ear. It has many voices. Some I like better than others. Sometimes I ask them questions. “Tell me the truth now,” I will say, fishing, perhaps, for compliments, “do I look fat in these pants?” Sometimes I will check for the signs that will most surely give me away as a blind person the moment I walk out the door. “Are there any spots on this blouse?” Sometimes the commentary on my reflection comes to me unbidden, but welcome in a perverse way. “Oh Mother, your roots need rescuing.” How else would I know when it was time for the chemicals? They say blondes have more fun. Nobody tells you anything about the fun ratio for blondes with telltale roots. In the most perplexing of all events, the voices of my reflection fight with each other. One will say, “You can wear this top with those pants.” Then another will chime, “No she can’t dad. Those don’t go at all.” Who, I wonder, decides how colours blend? Looking good, I have concluded, is a matter of taste. How often is my appearance the reflection of someone else’s taste? If yours is the mirror of the ear, then you trust somebody first. On the best days, your trust is rewarded with back up from sources who have nothing to gain or lose. Sometimes somebody who loves me will help me pick out a new dress, and then I’ll wear that dress to work, and even before I get there a stranger will say to me, “That dress looks so good on you. So bright and cheery.” That’s what happened with this dress that I bought in Texas, on a day when I wasn’t actually shopping for anything, which is why I wear it on occasions when I need to look good. That’s why I like it so much. Somehow, it just seems to suit me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


My mother was a farm wife. The smells of our home gave evidence of her daily labours. She would come in from gathering eggs at the henhouse, visiting bantam chicks in the barn straw, chasing cattle in the pasture, or gathering pungent cucumbers from the garden. The table would host a huge bouquet of peonies or sweet peas. The kitchen would be fragrant with the odours of apple pie, hot coffee, chocolate pudding, spice cake, pickled beets,, steak in the frying pan. At any given moment, Mom smelled like any of these. A few times a week we would go somewhere, she and I. It might be down the road to the monthly meeting of the Cambridge Ladies’ Club, or into town for groceries. She would say, “Wash your face. We’re going soon,” and I’d put on my shoes, wash my face and be ready in a flash. Mom would be ready—after a while. For her, the process of getting ready required two things—an endless amount of time and a mirror. Standing in front of it while I took my shoes off and on, off and on, she would fastidiously apply cold cream, foundation, face powder, lipstick, eyeliner, hair spray and finish off with a few dabs of perfume to the wrist. I never could see the point of mirrors, likely because I couldn’t see anything when I stood before a mirror. I never knew how my mother looked. Somebody once asked me what colour her hair was and I couldn’t dredge up that information. It had never once occurred to me to wonder about it. And so, when I think back to the days of waiting for Mom to finish with the mirror, it is not the way she looked that I recall, but rather the way her time in front of the mirror changed the way she smelled.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


We discovered the mirror in the early days of our marriage. Those were the days when we felt the need to economize, the days when our relatives held secret conversations in their living rooms about how tight-fisted we were with our money. The mirror was displayed on a wall in Woodwards Southgate, on the second floor, at the top of the escalator. “There’s a beautiful mirror here,” David said as we stepped off. “Come and touch it.” The mirror was a tall and skinny thing. It would have been four-sided, had the corners not been angled to form eight. Approaching it with a giggle, I imagined myself planting a fingerprinted hand squarely in its centre, an act which would surely have been disdained by my mother. But alas, it was the mirror’s ornate edges he wanted me to touch. The reflective surface was bordered by small rectangles of cut mirror, fit together like puzzle pieces, the joins smoothed by fancy sculpted gold-coloured metal. At each of its eight corners there was a small gold flower. “Shall we buy it?” I queried. I could not imagine buying it, but it was unusual for him to be drawn to such a frivolous thing. “No,” he said. The price tag read “$237.00.” The mirror hung in Woodwards for many years, waiting to greet us. I used to wonder if it missed us when we were on vacation. Every few weeks we would go to Woodwards and ride the escalator to the second floor, sometimes just to visit it. “Shall we get it?” I would query. “No,” he would say. But there came a time when the ride up the escalator was filled with anxiety. Store displays do not last forever. What if, one day, we rode the escalator up and faced—faced something else other than the mirror? The moment of truth finally arrived. We bought the mirror. One big purchase deserves another. We also bought fuzzy tactile wallpaper—the kind that costs more than paint. We hung the paper on the wall at the top of our front stairs and strategically placed the mirror upon it so that it would greet each person who climbed the steps. Sometimes I would stand before it and run my fingers along its fancy edges, always a little surprised that I, a blind person with a reputation for frugality, had spent $237.00 on a mirror.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND My favourite song by The Once from Newfoundland. Enough said. It speaks for itself.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


WHAT IF Eloquently said by Pastor Bob on the Northpointe Community Church blog: “Nearly everything and everyone is temporary, impermanent, and unpredictable. We drive ourselves crazy asking “What if?” What if she gets sick? What if he moves? What if the company gets sold? What if they change their minds? What if she lied? What if he dies? What if there’s a war? What if the stock market tanks again? What if I don’t ever get a good paying job again? What if? What if? What if? Against the threat of “what if,” our only power is to say and mean, “I will.” In the face of what we cannot know or control, we resolve to do what we can: we pledge to be present and to care. We give our word that, as far as it depends on us, we will be there for each other and for the life and work we have in common. “I will” is stronger than “What if?”” Ruth sent along that little Gem, knowing we were overwhelmed. I read it and thanked her. Then I heard myself quoting it at work--to an 87-year-old woman at the CNIB--and in my volunteer life—to a 30-year-old man at Walk In Counselling Services of Edmonton. Mostly, though, like so many other quotes that catch, I was telling it to myself. I am a huge fan of saying “I will”. That simple phrase, uttered as a guiding intention, has settled me to action many times. But just as there is power in saying and meaning “I will”, so also is there comfort in hearing a meant “I will.” Here are just a few of the meant “I wills” we have heard lately. I will share my home with a homeless family if no other home can be found. I will help you clean your garage. I will trim your hedge and mow your lawn. I will come to your birthday party. I will look after your dog any time you go away. I will bring your grandson and stay with you for nearly a week. I will stand here with you and let you know when the traffic light changes to “WALK”. I will share my pastries with you. I will put aside several hours to help your friend with paperwork and meet at a convenient location. I will stand on that tall ladder to screw in that light globe. I will work on optimism for good weather to make your party more fun next Saturday. I will play music with you. I will mention in my monthly report how much I appreciate having you here. I will water your plants. I will give you a ride. I will send you my favourite gluten free recipes. I will purchase fruit trays and carry tables. I will be glad to see you. Pastor Bob is right. “I will” is stronger than “What if”.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I have spent my entire adult life with a man whose first instinct is always to help others. It could be that our mutual attraction took root for this reason. People who have disabilities have a natural affinity for those whose first instinct is to help others, particularly for those who do it automatically, making it appear to be effortless, seldom expecting either recognition or reward. I have benefited from the attention of many friends of this type, but only one of them has made the ultimate commitment of living with me. I have sometimes thought that my life mate is his own worst enemy. His helping costs him time, energy money. I have sometimes thought that I might be his worst enemy. I like to help others also, and many of the things I volunteer to do for others end up involving him as a support to my helping efforts. It did not surprise me when he offered to help me take aquacise classes. I had a bad back that needed pain relief. He said, “It won’t hurt me either. I feel a bit stiff when I exercise at the gym. Going to the gym was one of the things he did for his own benefit, but he looked for a way that he could help me at the same time. It didn’t surprise me when he offered to drive me to classes in the Alexander Technique. I thought it would help with my bad back. But it did surprise me a bit when he said he would also take Alexander instruction. “I could probably use a bit of help with posture and balance,” he said. We have spent many happy hours exploring unfamiliar cities. Last weekend we went to Milwaukee. Milwaukee is the city of historic breweries, and the filming of Happy Days. Its streets sport the unpretentious homemade brick buildings that formed the backdrop for the simple working lives of the likes of Laverne and Shirley. We did not have time to see any of this on our visit to Milwaukee. Our time was spent at a medical conference in a suburban hotel marooned in a concrete jumble of major highways, choked off by acres of parking lot that feed entry into the malls and restaurants of the big-box era. It was the kind of conference to which I am often recruited as a speaker on hope, a collective of knowledgeable doctors gathered together by a collective of tireless volunteers to provide information on a rare disease to patients and their families. If such a conference were held at an interesting location, I would go as a speaker, and my life mate might join me as a speaker’s helper. But this conference was different for us. Nobody knew I was a student of hope. In this strange environment where every person present was a new introduction, he was a patient, and I was family. “I’ll take notes on the presentations,” I promised myself. “I’ll wait until later to think about hope.” Much of the talk was about the consequences of cerebellar atrophy—problems with balance, with stiffness, and so many other things for which the medical profession has no immediate remedy through pills or surgery. Each of us filtered the information through our own experience, our hopes, our fears, the plans we ought to make. My life mate, we observed, appeared to be among the very healthiest of all the patients at the conference. His relative health might be attributed to our proactivity in noticing change and presenting the story to doctors. It might be attributed to our audacity in attending such a conference at an early stage. It might be attributed to chance. One theme wound its way through the endless data presented by the professionals. Each one of them stressed the value of taking charge. “Do all you can. Keep yourself in shape. Prevent yourself from losing ground. Exercise. Work with your abilities.” I thought back to things that had been helpful at early stages, to aquacise, to the Alexander lessons. I thought how those sustaining therapies had been put into place before we had the awareness to measure their effects, before we had acknowledge the influence of a problem that reached beyond the limits of the decline you can expect as a result of aging. And then I remembered that these things came to him in the process of his volunteering to help me. Could it be that there are times when those with the strongest helping instincts are not their own worst enemies? How often have I met wonderful people who, in helping others, have been their own best friends? Ultimately, when it comes to hope, the part of my world that is hopeful has, within its boundaries, a lot of helpful people.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013


It was August 26 when Panic hit me—knocked out my breath and set my knees to trembling. Somehow I had managed to keep her at bay with soothing words, with promises. “Don’t panic,” I had said to myself. “You know you never miss a deadline. There is still time.” And with those simple words, with the promise of time, Panic had been persuaded to hide backstage, waiting for the right moment to strike. Even in the summers that aren’t so great, summer is a marvellous time to let yourself lose sight of deadlines. Time stretches out in a summer, stretches out and flies away. Go on holidays and you soon get to wondering if it’s Tuesday or Thursday. Time gets distorted in the summer. But the ultimate, inescapable problem with time, in the context of a deadline, is that there gets to be less and less of it. Every unused day before a deadline is a day you never, ever get back. All through the spring and summer I had been looking forward to the pleasure of losing myself in whatever stories I would develop for the T.A.L.E.S Fort Edmonton Festival on the Labour Day weekend. Storytelling, after all, is a hobby, a pleasure. I had been promising it as a reward to myself, since I had not been writing THE HOPE LADY Blog, and writing always helps. But more to the point—in relation to the panic—I had also promised one 15-minute concert story and one 50-minute story performance to my hard-working, ever-faithful colleagues at T.A.L.E.S. The concert story would be about light. I had promised it for August 31—a story to pick up the threads from a beautiful song to be performed by The Once, a folk group from Newfoundland. The 50-minute performance, a montage of folk tales and personal reflections about mirrors, was promised for September 1. It was April when I first made the promises. None of the folk tales about mirrors had been located. None of the personal stories had been written. But it was all highly possible, back in April. It was May when I signed the contracts. May was followed by June and July and 25 days of August when I did absolutely nothing to move the project forward—nothing except for thinking occasionally about it, then shooing Panic back into the wings. At a certain point, when I was no longer certain that the project was possible, I turned to Hope. In fact, it was a hope statement that caused the panic. I woke up on the morning of August 26 and said to myself, “Don’t worry about the future. Why, just think, a week from today your stories will have already been told.” When Panic heard this, she rushed forward and knocked the wind out of me. “Worry, you idiot!” she shrieked. “You have left this so late, you’ll need a miracle. I have heard too many excuses about having writer’s block, and being on holidays, and spending time with little Ben, and dealing with all the issues in your life! This time you have pushed me too far!” Then she shook me so hard I saw stars. And so it was that, in Ontario, on the road between Long Sault and Gananaque on the morning of August 26, while sitting in the very back seat of a rental van, I took out Mona the iPhone and launched an Internet search for folk tales about mirrors. This is how it all ended. A concert story was performed in Edmonton on August 31, and a 50-minute set was performed on September 1. I have the recordings to prove it. I did the hard work of preparation. I did the suffering. But Panic is taking all the credit. These days Panic is feeling pretty smug—pretty proud of herself. “Bow for the applause,” she sneers, “but let me just say that you couldn’t have done it without me.” And, reluctantly, I have to admit that she is probably right.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


“Babies are meant to lie on their backs,” Ben’s great-grandmother would have said. “they develop faster when they can see the world.” Ben’s great-grandmother had experience with babies. “babies must be placed on their stomachs,” his Granny said to her mother, when she was raising his mom. “all the experts tell us it’s safer for them. On their backs they can’t so easily choke.” “Babies must be placed on their backs,” his mother says with conviction. “Studies show they will be at reduced risk for crib death.” So much conflicting information. How is a fellow to know whom he ought to trust? So ben has taken matters into his own hands. After five-and-a-half months of listening to the opinions of experts, he has developed a system for flipping himself from stomach to back, back to stomach. No more staring at that boring ceiling! no more flattening the nose against the mattress! It’s the new freedom, the final proof that babies know best, the revolutionary discovery that changes everything! Perhaps ben will take out a patent some day, sell the knowledge to other babies. He’ll call his discovery ‘The turn-Right system’. With so many babies out there wondering whom to believe, he’ll be rich in no time. But all the work of that will have to wait. For Ben is, at this very moment, hatching and testing the validity of a new theory. If babies can turn themselves, he reasons, might they not also be able to move from family room to kitchen by placing hands just ahead of the shoulders and then bending the knees up under the torso, thus advancing the body forward, a little at a time?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


“Inspiration is arousal, awakening, creativity, deep thinking, elevation, encouragement, enthusiasm! Let's Share It.” INSPIRATION IS BLISS “Inspiration is the act or power of exercising an elevating or stimulating influence upon the intellect or emotions;” Wikiquote Being an inspiration to others is one of my favourite pastimes these days. There I sit, charged with the job of spotting and reducing depression in elderly people. More often than not they have recently endured multiple disabilities or losses, Now they are trying to build a life with partial vision. “You are an inspiration to me,” they say, and I am pleased because their words indicate signs of arousal, awakening, creativity, deep thinking, elevation, encouragement, enthusiasm, the vibrant positive emotions that push aside the symptoms of depression. They will need to engage all of these positive qualities to deal with the daily challenges they will face. It seems strange to me now, but I used to bristle if someone said I was an inspiration to them. It happened often enough back in the old days when I worked with elderly blind people. They were 79, I was 29. I guess I was thinking more of what I needed and less of what they needed. I needed assurance that I was competent, professional, a normal person who just happened to be blind. They, I believed, needed a white cane, or a braille watch, or an attitude adjustment. I needed to provide those things in a most professional capacity. I was younger back in those days, still proving myself to myself. Elderly people with partial sight are probably not much different than they used to be, though they are a little older on average. I, however, am quite different. “You are an inspiration to me,” they say when we have explored the alleys of the mind where depression lurks. The words ring differently these days when I hear them from people who are 89. I hear them through the ears of a woman who is 59—though I don’t hear as well as I used to, and my bones break these days when they never used to, and my back isn’t what it could be, and my knees pop and crackle when I move. I realize that what they are experiencing is not the simple loss of vision, but a new insult to the body heaped upon layers of insult that have been accumulating for years. If inspiration is the act or power of exercising an elevating or stimulating influence upon the intellect or emotions, then an inspiration I am proud to be. For the best defence against the gloom that accompanies depression is the power to rise above it, and anyone who is still looking for inspiration at the age of 89 deserves to find it. The least I can do is make it easy to find.

Friday, May 17, 2013


“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” --Joni Mitchell I awoke with the robins, flexed my ankle a bit, flexed it again to relieve the stiffness in my foot, and then the truth began to sink in. it was gone. That hulking, gray, plastic-and-Velcro-and-felt monstrosity with the airbags you pump up with a space-age rubber football-shaped balloon that has inflation/deflation tubes on either end was gone from my bed. It was gone from my foot. It hadn’t gone far. It was, after all, standing meekly beside the bed, waiting for to brace me for the trip to the bathroom. So it wasn’t really gone if you insist on seeing the big picture of gone, but in the little picture it was gone. And with it went a tiny sliver of my personal gloom. With that huge airboot standing on the floor, there was room in the bed under the blankets to flex my ankle. With a bit of that gloom out of the way, there was room for a little hope. “Gone from the bed today, gone to the storage closet for used aircasts in a month or so,” said the hope. “And what about me,” whined the gloom. “Will I even be missed?”

Friday, May 10, 2013


If David hadn’t asked me about my day, then I wouldn’t have mentioned the potholes I had encountered on the street. If I hadn’t mentioned the potholes to David, he wouldn’t have advised me not to walk on that street. If he hadn’t advised me not to walk on that street, then I might not have chosen to ignore that advice. If I hadn’t ignored that advice, then I wouldn’t have stepped in the pothole while rushing home the very next day. And I wouldn’t have been thrown forward. And I wouldn’t have broken the bones in my foot. And I wouldn’t be wearing this aircast. And I wouldn’t be spending my days with my feet up instead of walking. And I wouldn’t be spending my hard-earned money on taxis. And I wouldn’t be feeling so sorry for myself. But here I am, in the merry month of may, sitting in a chair and propping my foot and sleeping in an aircast and taking pain pills and riding in taxis and feeling sorry for myself. And who is to blame for all this suffering? It’s and open and shut case. I blame David.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Kitty: When the sun shines I just want to ambush my people, rush the door, make it out into the yard, sneak through the hole in the fence, race down the alley, catch mice, chase birds and scare all the neighbourhood cats. Too bad they won’t let me. Pirate: Gosh Kitty. All I want is to get my leash on and go for a walk. Kitty: Then why don’t you make them take you? Pirate: Well, David doesn’t have time. He’s too busy looking after Wendy, bringing her cups of coffee, getting her laptop, plugging in her iPhone, getting the ice for her foot, wondering if she should see a doctor and asking if there’s anything else he cando. Kitty: It’s spring! Why would anybody want ice? Pirate: I don’t exactly know. I imagine it has something to do with the 7-foot-deep pothole she stepped into on her way home from work. Kitty: 7-foot-deep pothole! Do you expect me to believe that? Pirate: Well I don’t know if anybody measured it. But I heard on the news that there are more than 500,000 potholes in Edmonton. Do you think anybody counted them? Kitty: Okay, okay. So she stepped into a pothole. Pirate: Yes, and she fell down and skinned her hands, and got a scab on her knee that would strike pride into the heart of any 8-year-old. Kitty: I suppose she’s moaning about the pain. Pirate: No, not really. She’s moaning about not being able to plant her pansies, or check out the primroses, or walk in the river valley on the first nice weekend we had. Kitty: Seven-foot pothole? Ice in April? Sounds like disordered thinking to me. the symptoms point to a serious case of Spring Fever. Pirate: Who knew it could spread so easily from animals to humans?

Sunday, April 28, 2013


LEAVING A LUSH GARDEN FOR THOSE WHO FOLLOW There’s a story in YESTERDAY’S newspaper that caught my attention. Heather Miller writes about her mother-in-law Nellie, a railroad worker’s wife who was frequently FORCED TO CHANGE RESIDENCE without notice by her husband’s transfers to other towns. Come spring, she would plant a lush garden and then just when, or sometimes even before it began to produce the flowers and vegetables she had cultivated, she would have to leave it behind for a home where the previous worker’s wife had planted no garden. No garden is what anyone would expect to find. Why would anyone plant a garden knowing that it probably would only be used by someone else? One year, Nellie added a new element. Just before she moved, she left a note inviting the next person to use her garden. Redundant you say? Well, she was surprised, a few moves later, to find a note and a garden waiting for her. She had started a trend that continued for years, people investing their time in gardens that somebody else might use. Nellie was a generous woman, willing to garden for others if she couldn’t have the garden for herself. But why did her note start a gardening trend when her generous gardening had not? Could it be that the note helped the garden recipient see the gardening activity as an act of hope rather than an act of despair, an acvt of intentional contribution rather than an act of probable loss?

Thursday, April 25, 2013


The other day I sat down at a table, spread out my papers, and prepared to make a cell phone call. And then it came upon me, quicker than a speeding freight train, more surprising than a bolt of thunder in the bright sunshine—a stab of longing for the past. I had not seen it coming, even though I was at Hope House, where I go now on Tuesdays, to run our final hope and strengths groups for people with chronic pain. In need of a quiet space for calling, I had ventured into the office that was mine for so long, sat down at the table where I worked through the hopes and fears of thousands of people. Even though that office is no longer mine, I did it without expecting it to hurt. I thought I was over that. I wasn’t over that. I believe that in future I will look upon the winter of 2012-2013 as a winter of losses. It was the winter when my job as a hope cousnellor came to an end, the winter when I spent a lot of time visiting Mum Edey in hospital. It was the winter in which I put on the last pair of soft woolen slippers my mother-in-law made for me. In the past 35 years she had made dozens of pairs, a perfect fit, the ultimate pattern to thrill my feet. I had worn them every day, worn holes in their heels, holes in their toes, and then surrendered them at the point when there was more hole than slipper, surrendered them in favour of a fresh new pair. I still had one slightly-worn pair left when it became clear that Mum Edey would not likely be well enough to knit another. Small holes were showing on the left foot by the time she breathed one last gentle breath and skipped into a forever quiet. “Should I keep this one last pair?” I wondered. But Mum was never one to keep things, and neither am I. The best tribute was declared in the wearing. The other day I held up the remains of two tattered slippers. The bare floor came through to my foot whenever I wore them. “I’ll send them on their way now,” I said to myself. And then, as I tossed them into the garbage, it came upon me, quicker than a speeding freight train, more surprising than a bolt of thunder in the bright sunshine—a stab of longing for the past. I thought I was ready to let them go. I wasn’t ready. I picked up the slippers and put them back on the slipper shelf, just as I had picked up the chronic pain groups for one last wonderful go at intensive hope work. And thus it seems to me that if the winter of 2012-2013 will be remembered as a winter of losses, then the spring and summer of 2013 might later be recalled as the period of trial, practice and preparation for the difficult task of letting go of beloved things and people.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Ron MacLean: “I sometimes feel that without children to sort of rein me in and give me responsibility, I’ve never really grown up. I’ve been able to play hockey, go out with my buddies and be obsessive about work. I’m selfish in a way that children don’t allow you to be.” (Cornered, P102) I came across this quote when I was flying home from my most recent Granny visit to baby Ben. I smiled because I had, only that day, posed the question: “Why do we want kids anyway?” At the time when I asked that question, I was smelling a lot like Ben, a nose-wrinkling kind of smell that reminds you of last week’s milk. That same smell was on every blouse in my suitcase, except for one last shirt buried under the pile, waiting for me to put it on after the last kiss good-bye. Ben’s mother came running at the sound of the question. Perhaps she was wondering if I really doubt the worth of children. She was clearly ready to defend Ben against any suggestion of an emotion less extreme than delight. She need not have worried. This was not the first time I smelled that way. Baby Ben is remarkably like his mother was at that age. First we eat, then we spit up. “It all changes,” I promise her. “Look how well you turned out in the end!” Ron MacLean had intended to be a father, but fate had other things in mind. He was sad. Still, he embraced a grand career worthy of an autobiography. He basks now in the late-night freedom of a forever teen-ager. It’s possible that he never smelled like baby Ben. Smelling better now that I am back home in Edmonton, too far away to simply reach over to pick Ben up at the first possible opportunity, I say: “Poor Ron! Poor, poor Ron!”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Want to hear something spectacular? Well then, go down into an underground station of the LRT in Edmonton. Make sure to be in a station with concrete walls and a high ceiling that echoes like the Swiss Alps. Wait for a quieter moment. Then pull out a white cane, take a few quick steps forward and propel a WET FLOOR sign into space. (Note: I suspect you don’t have to look for a station that has a wet floor. Pretty much any station will do.) Wait for the sign to clatter back on the ceramic floor, hit it a second time if it lands in a straight path just in front of you, and you’ve got a hubbub worthy to remove the ear buds and turn the head of even the most obtuse teen-ager. Is it just my imagination, or are WET FLOOR signs more popular these days? Admittedly, my memory isn’t what it used to be. I check three times to make sure I turned the oven on, four times to be sure I turned it off. Still, you’d think that a person with the capacity to spontaneously recall half the lyrics to half the songs on the pop charts of 1966 would not have forgotten the WET FLOOR signs from the good old days of her youth. Surely she would have noticed them if they had been as popular as smokers in Ladies’ washrooms. Or is it just that, in these smoke-free times, a lot of things have become more clear? Anyway, until somebody proves me wrong, I am going to stick with the theory that there are more WET FLOOR signs than there used to be. I’d say they border on the ubiquitous. You find them in places both private and public—taking up 90% of the available floor space in the washrooms at Tim Horton’s, cluttering the vast expanse in the tiled lobby of the dentist’s office, not to mention the place where I encounter most of them—centred boldly in the narrow pathways that lead from the street to the trains of the LRT. Why, just last week—on a single trip to work--I took out four of them—sent them flying, spinning end over end, clattering on their sides, sliding like hockey players on their way to the boards. . Each encounter in its turn was surprising, noisy, a moment of high drama. Four encounters in the early morning rush of sleepy commuters. A record to be sure, and still I’ll never know how many possible others I missed. There is a difference between being noticed and being stared at. I am not, and have never been, the kind of woman who likes to be stared at. Give me a joke, and I’ll try to make you laugh. Give me a stage with a mic and I’ll tell you a story, might even sing you a song. But send me out to work on a sleepy commuter morning, and I would prefer to be unnoticed or at least to imagine that I am unnoticed. I would prefer to have digital WET FLOOR signs flashing high on the walls rather than littering the floors in the most obvious paths of travel. I would prefer to be able to see these blasted items of clutter and not hit them at all. At the very least, I would choose to have WET FLOOR signs present only when floors are wet, rather than hanging about for hours on floors that probably dried yesterday. But if I can’t have any of these things, then please endow me with the delusion that the WET FLOOR sign launching event is one of the funniest entertainments of the day, if not for the startled on-lookers, then at least for me. Let me hear the applause when a perfect hit is made! Let me bow in humble gratitude for the twisted fate that presented the opportunity to entertain! It’s not such a big stretch of the imagination, is it?

Monday, April 15, 2013


Therapist: Good morning Kitty. What shall we talk about today? Kitty: I had another conversation with that dog named Pirate. Therapist: Tell me more. Kitty: So Pirate licks the bowl after I’ve eaten my dinner and then he says, “Hey Kitty! I hear you and your people are moving out of our house.” “Yep,” I say. “I hear they’ve decided to leave this little suite for a place with three spacious bedrooms.” “Yep.” “With a double garage so they won’t have to scrape and sweep their cars before work next winter,” “Yep.” “And I hear that instead of that tiny little bathroom with no counter, there will be two-and-a-half baths, with a new high efficiency hot water heater and furnace.” “Yep.” “And they say it has a spacious family kitchen with almost-new appliances and a friendly big living room.” “Yep.” “And a whole basement for your litter box, and your very own yard to play in.” “Yep.” “And now it will be just the three of you in Mark and Tracey’s bed without having to make room for me.” “Yep.” “And you won’t have me around to lick your bowl after every meal.” “Yep.” Then he gets that hang-dog look and he says, “Oh Kitty. I’m so sorry. You must be absolutely devastated.” Therapist: And how do you feel when Pirate says such a thing to you? Kitty: Tell me! What sense can there be in a world where the innermost feline experience can be distilled down in a few short woofs?

Sunday, April 14, 2013


The other day I got a chain letter. It was a different sort of chain letter, not the familiar kind that you send on without making changes, propelled to send it on by the threat of bad luck to the first chain-breaker. This chain letter changed with every sending. In fact, it was a bit of a tangled chain. It tangled on its weaving journey, shuttling back and forth across the country, traveling across the world and coming back. Its order was tangled too, email being what it is, always showing us the last letter first, previous correspondence chained below. And the topic was a bit tangled, though the theme was clearly hope, hope that became more entangled with love as it traversed the generation gap and returned by a slightly different route. I was intrigued to find myself both at the end of the chain and in the middle. So I untangled it. On March 31, Easter Sunday, Mark rogers from Waterloo Ontario wrote a piece on hope to his colleagues at Habitat for Humanity. This is what he wrote. “I thought I would send out my weekly rant today in order to wish you and those you love a very Happy Easter! Regardless of your religious persuasion, I think just about anyone can appreciate the message and themes of the Easter story, namely: suffering, sacrifice, resurrection, new life. Each year, millions of people around the world rally to celebrate this message because it has such profound significance for everyone of us. For at its core, it’s a story of hope and new beginnings. And who us could live without a sense of hope, or survive this journey of life without second chances? In his best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, former Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus a reason to continue living. In a heart-wrenching manner, Frankl describes the essential difference that characterizes those that survived these unfathomable circumstances from those that did not. His answer: HOPE! Without a sense hope humans by nature surrender to their circumstances, believing that their present conditions will remain the same no matter what effort is exerted to change them. And yet, with a sense of hope, regardless of how granular that hope may be, individuals can overcome almost unimaginable situations and triumph in the end. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Building Homes, Building Hope! I want you to stop today and truly reflect on that tag line, because it’s more than just our organizational banner. It’s who we are in the world. It’s what we represent to people around the globe. It’s our mission, our meaning, and our message! Far more than simply building shelters for families in need of affordable housing, we offer them a sense of hope, enrichment, optimism, and new beginnings. And when people sense they have even “a chance” for a better life, it’s astonishing what they will do with it! Just ask any of our Habitat partner families! Frankly, I cannot think of a better organization, a better mission, or a better message to be associated with on this Easter Sunday! Building Homes, Building Hope! It may very well be the best message you could share with someone this Easter!” On April 2, a colleague on Vancouver Island responded to that email with a note of her own, sent back to Waterloo. She wrote: “Good morning, Mark. I just wanted to send you a very personal note about your rant this morning. Nine years ago today, my first husband lost his battle with cancer. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer about two and a half years prior. Things progressed very quickly for us, as he found out that he had cancer in September 2001 and, within about another month, found out that he was terminally ill and had basically no hope of survival. Your message was especially poignant for me today as I remembered that he had meetings with Wendy Edey of the University of Alberta’s Hope Studies Central regarding his situation and how he found hope, even in the midst of his seemingly hopeless situation. We also met with Wendy together once and discussed how we were both able to find hope even in the very grim situation that we found ourselves in (our sons were 10 and 12 at the time of diagnosis). I remember that we just cried and cried and cried. He thinking about the end of his earthly life and missing all the significant events in our sons’ lives and me trying to figure out how I could possibly go on without him and raise our boys on my own. With some thought-provoking questions from Wendy, he admitted that he felt confident and hopeful that his family would be okay and would carry on after his passing and I admitted that, even though I thought it would take a very long time, that I felt hopeful that the boys and I would continue to live our lives and would eventually be able to find comfort in happy memories instead of always being surrounded by the rawness of our grief. This is getting a bit long, so I will wrap it up! In a nutshell, I truly believe that Habitat for Humanity can provide a beacon of hope for families, even when they feel that their situation is utterly hopeless.” Later on April 2, Mark distributed that note to some Habitat colleagues. One of them was Mary in Edmonton, who read it with interest, recognizing my name, knowing that our daughters are friends. . And so, even later on April 2, Mary passed the email along to Kate in south Africa. On April 3, Kate sent the email to Ruth in Guelph Ontario, just a short drive from Waterloo. On April 5, Ruth sent the email to her mother in Edmonton. “Somebody wrote about you,” she said when she sent it. And along that tangled chain, my words of hope work, spoken at a time of great suffering and remembered for 12 years, came back to me.

Friday, April 12, 2013


These days I am reflecting a lot on the differences between what I knew then, and what I know now, what I did then and what I do now. This week it will be 36 years since I got my first real professional job—a position at the CNIB, providing services to people with very low vision, mostly seniors. I was 23 years old, looking forward to a lifetime of infinite possibility. The seniors I met were inspired by me, and that was good, but they also pitied me—many of them in unguarded tearful sympathy. “You are so young,” they would cry in tremendous distress. “It is so sad.” I was immediately defensive. I did not want their pity or their tears. I wanted to give them accessible alarm clocks and library books on tape. I wanted to offer them white canes to ease their travel and magnifiers to aid their cooking. In short, I wanted them to stop grieving their losses and get on with the business of planning productive futures for themselves. Though many of them welcomed me and the great services I came to deliver, emotionally, it was difficult for me to reach them with anything more personal than professional detachment. Except for shared humour, an asset that worked wonders for me even at that early stage in my development, I wanted to set a boundary that said, “I am not you. Don’t pity me. I am young. I am doing fine. I am planning a great future. Leave me out of your sadness.” Years passed and I moved on to other employers, other educations, other life stages. Now, 36 years later, I am seeing people of that same population, seniors with low and deteriorating vision. Things are the same, and also different. The CNIB still delivers accessible alarm clocks, audio library books, white canes and magnifiers. More people are being served, and the population is older, largely because people are, in general older and healthier than they used to be. I am now a Registered Psychologist who has been hired because of my long experience in counselling for depression with people in all sorts of difficult situations. Others deliver the clocks and canes and such to my clients. My job is to deliver the emotional well-being that will inspire people to be the best that they can be. Something else is different too—and that is my point of view. A man has come to my office. He’s a young man by my current standards, only 77 years old. He’s had audio books for quite a while now. He was twice prescribed antidepressants—something that would never have happened to such an ordinary man 36 years ago. He stopped taking them both times. “They didn’t help,” he said. I start asking him about other medications he is taking—something I would never have done 36 years ago. He tells me about some, giving me the reasons why he got them. To show that I understand how he feels, I tell him I am almost 60 now, coping with ailments one at a time, quite often looking back with longing to the days when I could simply jump out of bed first thing in the morning without first causing to call a meeting of my body parts to ask who wants to move first. He starts to laugh. He tells me how frustrated he is with his television. He can’t operate it. He can’t see the menu on the screen. When I say that I too am furious that we can no longer get a television that a blind person can use, he perks up and tells me he wants to smash it. I get this. He has learned, as I have learned, that one wrong move on the remote will disable the TV and you won’t be able to use it until a sighted person comes along. He has learned how easy it is to make that one wrong move. We are different in TV watching, I not having much time for it. But I am well aware that in only a moment I also will be 77 years old, no longer employed, a woman with plenty of time to watch a TV I may not be able to use because I can’t access the information about channel and volume changes. Together we talk about the kind of message we need to deliver to TV manufacturers. We envision TV-throwing events where we will go together. He is laughing again. I am noticing that seniors don’t pity me any more. They see that I am almost 60 and have somehow wended my way through life’s challenges. Instead of talking about the magnifiers they need, we talk first about the times in their lives when they were faced with unwelcome changes. We talk about what they did in those instances. We wonder if they have changed much since then, if they still intend to be resilient, to be forward-looking, to take what comes to them and move on. They will hear and internalize this kind of talk from me because they can see me counting the years of my own future. Now that we are standing on the same ground, it’s hope talk pure and simple. “This is the kind of person you proved yourself to be. In the face of this unwelcome change, what kind of person do you hope to be?”