Saturday, August 22, 2015

Healing Threads and Growing Hope

Imagine, if you will, a woman in the sex trade. The local prostitute. The hooker working the street. What does she look like? Is she the Hollywood call-girl? The tired junkie? Who is she?

Perhaps you have seen the girls on the corner. Did they linger in your mind? Did you wonder? Who is she?

Today I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours with some of these women. A wonderful friend of mine has started Hope Grows, working to help women in the sex trade. This afternoon was the first Healing Threads. The ladies were served pizza, veggies and dip, coffee and tea, cupcakes. They listened to a performer who was there just for them. They got to go "shopping" for clothing, jewelry, toiletries, and whatever else had been donated for the event.

Some of these women have left the sex trade years ago and are there to help others. Others have just left, are in the process of leaving, or are trying to get out. Others are likely turning tricks tonight.

But none of that mattered. Today, they were allowed to just be themselves. I would wager that most, if not all, of these women would not make eye contact with me if I were to meet them on the street. Today they did. I heard stories and saw pictures of babies. I was given a glimpse, for a moment, of who they are. And they were beautiful. Every last one of them.

The smiles on their faces as they showed off their "purchases" made my day. They were so excited. One woman walked out and said, "I got all the best stuff in there," teasing those who hadn't yet had a turn.

When it was time to leave, several ladies came up and asked if they could take some pizza home with them. For supper tonight. For her daughter. For her sister who was in the hospital. For her mom.

Then I wondered, what is it like for her mom. What dreams did she have for her daughter? Did she have a similar life, maybe still does? Even if she did, surely she had hoped that her own child would become more. Still hopes.

And I wondered, what dreams did she have for herself when she was little? What did she want to be when she grew up? What hopes and dreams does she have now?

Perhaps most importantly, how can we help her fulfill those dreams? How can we care for that seed of hope so that it flourishes and does great things? Because you know what happens to hope when you nourish it?

It grows.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I think there are some people that you just expect to live forever.  Parents, for example.  They’ve always been there.  It doesn’t seem right that some day they won’t be.  And yet, that’s the natural course of things.  People live, and then they move on.  Cross the bridge to whatever lies beyond.

For as long as I’ve known about Providence College, Henry Schellenberg was the conductor of the College Singers.  It seemed like he always would be.  He never really appeared to age (I always thought of him as in his 40s, from the day I met him until today when I realized that was not possible), and his capability of drawing the best out of his students never waned.  

I don't recall the first time I met Henry.  Even my recollection of my College Singers audition is very vague.  Somehow I was given the privilege of being one of two accompanists during my years with the choir.  I know that I made Henry nervous on more than one occasion.  I'm a terrible procrastinator, and I never practiced my music the way I should have (which I regret now, of course).  We were approaching "performance season" and I still didn't have one of my pieces nailed down.  Henry approached me and asked if perhaps it was too much for me to work on right now and if maybe Val should play it instead.  I told him that it would be ready by the time we performed.  He responded with a sigh, "I know, but sometimes it would be nice if it was ready a bit sooner."  I don't think I ever worked on a piece as much as I did that one after that.

At the end of my first year, the choir went on tour to Great Britain, as they did every three years.  It was clear that Henry was well-respected everywhere we went.  It was on that tour that we commonly heard Henry referred to as "Hank," mostly by some of the tenor section.  The nickname spread, but no one ever said it to his face.  We all loved him, and to call him that would seem almost wrong.  But we loved to jest.  After one particular concert, we had just loaded the bus, and Henry was not on yet.  Cory Alstad stood at the front, playing Henry.  "Well, that was, well, it was pretty good," he began, copying Henry's mild way of speaking to us, often almost stammering as he tried to convey his thoughts about how we had done.  "But the tenors, well, the tenors, well, let's just say that you guys need to do, well you need a little more work."  It was classic Henry - trying to tell us what went wrong without hurting anyone's feelings (though there were times in rehearsal when he would come right out and tell us that was terrible, which never hurt anyone's feelings, because Henry was the gentlest man I knew).  The best part of the whole scenario, though, was when Henry walked up behind Cory during his little spiel.  After realizing he was there, Cory turned bright red and headed to his seat, while Henry grabbed the bus mic and said with a little smirk, "That was, that was well done, Cory.  Good job."  Always a good sport.

While I was at Providence, Henry was working on his doctorate.  I don't remember much about what he said about the process, but I remember the impression that it was a great deal of work (as we all know it is).  I remember when he got it, how proud he was, yet how humble.  How proud we were of this accomplishment.  How good it felt to be able to call him "Dr. Schellenberg," a name that showed the respect that we all had for him.  So much more appropriate than "Hank."

Doing what he did best
Last August I had the opportunity to take part in an evening of celebration of Henry's life.  He knew at that point that his cancer could not be fully treated, and it was decided that an informal evening of singing and sharing would take place to give honour to this man.  What an evening it was!  People came out en masse to sing under him one last time, and just as many came to listen.  We were a motley crew - some of us had gone on to great musical endeavours, while others had all but abandoned that part of our lives - much like the group that he had to work with every year at Prov.  I quickly realized how much I had lost over the years, but still enjoyed every minute of that evening.  Seeing Henry do what he did best was such an experience.  Once again, he brought the best out of all of us, and he basked in the experience.  We even got to hear him sing that evening, as he performed the solo for one of the pieces.  It was the last time I would see him.

Years ago, I started arranging a couple of songs for choir, one of which was "For the Beauty of the Earth."  Finishing it is on my list of things to do while on maternity leave.  I always dreamt that one day, I would hear it performed, even if only in practice, by the College Singers under the direction of Henry Schellenberg.  When I read the last post written by his wife, Jocelyne, that he was indeed in his last days, it finally hit home that this dream would not come to fruition.  I had taken too long.  Somehow I thought that Henry should be with us forever, that five, ten, twenty years would not matter.  He would still be at the helm of the Singers, bringing forth beautiful music out of another motley crew.  My chance to hear his analysis of my attempt at arranging, one that would likely be full of semi-stammers as he tried not to hurt my feelings while discussing my inadequacies, and which would bring a smile to my face as I remembered so many other similar occasions, has been lost.  I still plan to finish it.  I still hope to hear it, even if only in practice, preferably by the College Singers.  I'll have to imagine his response.  It will still make me smile.

But today we feel the loss.  The loss of an incredibly gentle, humble and great man.  A man who chose to see the best in each person.  One who gave more chances than some of us deserved.  Our loss is heaven's gain.  Until we meet again...

Friday, January 18, 2013

What's in a Number?

My daughter turned ten today.  My hubby turns...another decade year...tomorrow.  It's the year of the decades.

In less than an hour, I'll be married to a 40-yr old.  This doesn't really phase me, because I'm a few years behind him, but it does remind me that our lives are, statistically speaking, about half over.  Crazy.

Lately I've wondered why we put so much stock in our age.  I used to think it was so strange that in some countries, people cannot tell you how old they are, or even on what day they were born.  Now I think maybe they have it right.  We place such importance in that number, and yet, what does it really tell us?

It doesn't tell us how we feel.  I don't feel much older than 23.  Half the time, I don't even know how old I am without consciously thinking about it.  Maybe that's the old age setting in...

It doesn't let anyone know what we have accomplished, other than surviving for a certain period of time.  The number doesn't tell anyone if we have squandered those years or used them wisely.

It doesn't dictate our physical capabilities.  I'm certainly in better shape than I was when I was 23, though not nearly as good as I was at 29.  I'm just leaving room for improvement.  ;)  I know people who have had PBs in their 50s, and it's not like they weren't in good shape to begin with.

It doesn't inform us of how much longer we have on this earth.  Sure, it lets us know that we have fewer days than we did even a day ago, but we still don't know if we have minutes or decades left.

So I'm not going to worry about any number.  Tomorrow we will celebrate the fact that my hubby has survived for four decades.  Then I'm going to enjoy how ever many days I have ahead of me, and hope that most, if not all, of them are spent with the love of my life.  And I'm certainly not going to let some number get me down.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Of Cell Phones and Laundry Baskets

We got my daughter a cell phone last fall.  She was starting high school, which meant taking public transit on a daily basis, spending more time hanging out with friends, and general extra busyness outside of the home.  We foot the bill, but with a condition - she does the towel laundry.

Through this experience, I have learned a few things about teenagers.  Or at least my teenager.  Based on discussions I have had with parents of teenagers, she seems to be fairly average, so I will assume for the purpose of this blog (as it is not a research paper or any other piece of writing that requires any sort of real accuracy), that I can generalize her characteristics to the teen populace.

1) Teenagers have selective sight.
In a household of 8ish people, dirty towels pile up pretty quickly.  Now when I see the laundry hamper full of towels, my brain tells me to take them down to the laundry room and wash them.  Apparently this trigger does not exist in the teenage mind.  There were several times when the hamper was overflowing, and there was no indication that it would be emptied any time soon.  Teenagers also have selective hearing (clearly this carries over from toddlerhood), as I would have to mention this several times before receiving a response, which typically included the statement, "I didn't realize that the hamper was full."

2) Teenagers will do minimal work to achieve their desired result.  (To be fair, I believe that many of us do this.  Teenagers just take it to an extreme.)
She wants to keep the cell phone.  To do so, the towels must be washed.  Upon threats of removal of the cell phone, my daughter would reluctantly get the towels and start a load of laundry.  To the average adult, finishing a task means finishing all steps included in that task.  To a teenager, finishing seems to equal starting.  A typical conversation went something like this:
"I need your cell phone.  I asked you to wash the towels, and it hasn't been done."
"Yes, it has.  I washed them last night."
"But they're still in the washer."
"Yeah, I had to go to bed, and I didn't have time to put them in the dryer before I left for school.  Besides, you didn't say I had to dry them, too."
Which brings me to...

3) Everything needs to be spelled out.
"I need you to wash the towels" became "I need you to wash, dry, fold and put the towels away.  Oh, and you can't just leave the laundry basket in the washroom.  It needs to be taken back down to the laundry room."  I don't know how many times I walked into the bathroom to an empty laundry basket staring me in the face.  It wasn't as if taking the basket with her was difficult.  But when I questioned her about it, she told me she just forgot it.  How do you forget a basket you just emptied?  Point #1, I suppose...

Well, I got tired of harassing my daughter about the towels, and my husband, who won't harass, got tired of doing the towel laundry when it piled up.  So I wrote up a set of rules.  I was initially going to call it a contract, but then I thought that making it look like she had some sort of choice in the matter wasn't quite honest.

As a good employer, I took my employee's words to heart and addressed her concerns.  She doesn't realize the hamper is full/can't remember to bring the towels down?  It now must be done every morning.  Simple.  She's not sure when they should be washed?  They must now be washed, dried, folded and put away before bed on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Failure to comply will result in immediate suspension of privileges.  Today was the first Tuesday.  I can tell she's a little less than impressed, but the towels are washed, dried, folded, and in the closet.

And the laundry basket?  It's in the laundry room.

The Human Touch

I had a lovely lunch with a lovelier lady yesterday.  Lovelier looks like a funny word...  I don't believe I have ever written it before.  But I digress.

I met Trinette when I was coaching triathlon Triple Threat.  I liked her right off the hop.  Her smile and energy were so infectious.  She is one of those rare people who is somehow both positive and realistic.  Although she won't hesitate to say if she is having a bad day, you never once get the feeling that she is complaining about it.

Trinette with my kidlets - the like her as much as I do.  :)
Admittedly, we got together because I needed to borrow a charger for my Macbook.  Trinette lives clear across the city, and this was a closer meeting point.  I suppose I could have just grabbed it from her and gone home, but lunch sounded so much nicer.  And it was.  The food was wonderful.  The conversation was even better.  The kind of stuff you can't find on Facebook.  Just a nice break all around.

I don't really have friends that I hang out with.  There are a select few that I get together with once every few months, but that's about it.  It's just the nature of my life right now - pretty much all consumed with kids and their activities.  My "spare time" is most often spent with my husband, because if it wasn't we wouldn't have much of a relationship.

There was a time when this bothered me.  I wanted to have a "normal" life like people I know who seem to have those close relationships.  They spend time together regularly.  Call each other to have coffee.  Get the kids together for playdates.  You know, that "normal" stuff.  Not having that made me feel alone.

Maybe social networking is partly to blame.  Would I spend more face (or even phone) time with people if it wasn't there?  I used to pick up the phone and call someone when I felt the need for human contact.  Now I tend to go online and comment on someone's status or picture.  Read a blog.  Write a blog.  A connection quick fix that doesn't quite do the job.  On the other hand, I have been able to reconnect with some people who have always been very dear to me because of the networking that is at our fingertips.

I do still hope that one day I'll find one or two people that I do stuff with on a regular basis.  Even though it doesn't depress me like it used to, I still miss that aspect of life.  One day, eighteen years from now or so, life will slow down.  I think.  Maybe change more than slow down.  Somewhere along the way, someone is bound to come along.  In the meantime, I will enjoy the little gems like my lunch with Trinette.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Simple Pleasures

My 5-yr old and I walk home from the YMCA, where we have just spent "not enough time" swimming.  His hand is in mine as we stroll along the sidewalk.  I notice my face feels much colder than it did on the walk there.  Although the wind is virtually imperceptible, the difference to the bare skin is significant.  I hope he will make it home without too much complaining.  He had opted to not wear a toque, and we could only find one of his mitts so he is wearing mini-gloves instead.

I enjoy every time we walk hand in hand.  I know it won't last forever.  I don't think the last time will come for awhile yet, but I know that when it does come I will be unaware, so I had better cherish each of these moments.

As we walk along, he picks the odd ice chunk and gives it a boot.  We take turns kicking it along until it is out of reach.  Then he chooses another and we start again.  I know this is making the walk longer, increasing the risk that the cold will suddenly be more than he thinks he can handle, but on the other hand, he is enjoying himself.  And I am enjoying watching that.

About half-way home, I hear the first complaint.  "I'm cold."

"I guess you should have worn your toque," I comment as I try to bring his hood closer to his head.  'I need to just bring it next time,' I think, 'just in case.'  It is then that I notice something in his jacket pocket.

"Look Justin - your other mitt!  Should we put it on?"

"Yes, please," he replies.  Conveniently, it is the mitt for the hand I wasn't holding, and I hope that I will be able to keep his other hand warm enough with my own.

Continuing on our way, I notice his face is quite pink.  "Your cheeks are rosy."

"What?  They're rose?" he asks.

"Rosy.  They're red from the cold," I explain with a little smile.  I love watching his mind take in new things.  I still chuckle every time I tell him to hold his pants on and he grabs them.  I haven't told him yet what I actually mean - I want to hold onto that innocence a little longer yet.

"Is my chin rose, too?"

"Yes, it is.  And your nose."

"Oh.  Two more blocks."

"Yup, we're almost home."  Our walk is almost over, our special time coming to a close.

After we get home, I decide to put a pot of milk on the stove for some hot chocolate.  Just for Justin and me.

"Justin, there's something on the table for you.  It's in a black cup."

"Hot chocolate!  Thank you, Mom!"  He sits down and takes a sip.  He pauses to look at me and asks, "Are you cold?"

"No, are you?"

"I was, but I'm not anymore."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

That Holiday Feeling

So today's my birthday.  The day the number that indicates how many full years I've been breathing oxygen increases by one.  It started much the way it has almost every year - ringing in the new year with family.  A few things have changed over the years, but my first "Happy Birthday"s are always accompanied by "Happy New Year"s, and I like it that way.

My hubby asked me today what it feels like to be 30.  (What a nice guy.)  I said pretty much the same as being 29.  Which was still more or less true, aside from the fact that when I was 29 (wow, that feels like forever ago...) I wasn't kept up until 2:30am by a baby who didn't want to go to sleep, I wasn't woken up at 5am by a 12-yr old telling me he had thrown up, and I wasn't dragged out of bed at 8am by the same baby, and then asked by a 5-yr old to make him something to eat.  Actually, come to think of it, that last one may have happened.

Really, today didn't feel a whole lot different than any other day.  The only thing really out of the ordinary was a birthday cake and going out to a movie with my hubby, both of which were nice.  Oh, and the 80 or so Facebook birthday wishes.  But it didn't feel like my birthday.

I remember the same thing just before Christmas.  "It just doesn't feel like Christmas," I thought.  It feels...ordinary.  And then I wondered - what do I expect it to feel like?

I guess a part of me expected the excitement of childhood.  The days spent in anticipation of the upcoming holidays, wondering what was in the wrapped boxes under the Christmas tree, eager to spend time with relatives, some of whom would be travelling from two provinces away.  Forced naps on December 31st so my parents didn't have to deal with completely cranky kids at midnight, especially on the years when we celebrated at a friend's house.  (I remember at least one meltdown when I was told it was time to go.)  There were three families that spent New Year's Eve together for years, alternating houses every year.  Those nights have some of my favourite memories.

I guess that was what I was waiting for.  And then I realized that it wasn't going to come.  Not because I don't enjoy Christmas anymore, or because I don't look forward to time with family and friends.  Not because New Year's Eve is less exciting.  But just because I'm older.  More tempered.  More grounded.  (More boring?)  Because life around the special days is busier.  Because I view the days a little differently than I did before.

And I realized that's ok.

Christmas Eve with the in-laws was relaxing.  Christmas Day with my family chaotic and loud, but full of joy and love.  New Year's Eve at home quiet, but with loved ones.  My birthday spent with those who mean more to me than all the world.

Yes, it feels different.  But it feels right.