Friday, July 06, 2007

The Stampede Parade Unfolds with Life at the Drop-In

I had to get into my office early this morning. At 7am the road will be closed in preparation for the Calgary Stampede Parade, blocking off access to our driveway.

Kitty corner to the Drop-In, the start-up area for the Parade is swarming with people milling about, horses fretting and floats getting their last finishing touches. Parade marshalls scurry about checking on placements, ensuring participants know the what to's and how to's of being part of the extravaganza about to unfold on Calgary's downtown streets. Clowns practice their smile generating arts. Alderman and MPs wander around the vintage convertibles that will convey them through the length of the parade. There's a sea of pink shirts and cowboy hats as men turn up in answer to the question poised by the Stampede's support of Breast Cancer Research, "Are you tough enough to wear pink?" The area is a vast streaming ocean of colour, glitter, balloons. Flags waving. Brass horns shimmering in the sun. Bands warm up their instruments, riders give one last polish to their horses bits and bridles, straighten blankets, check hooves. Multi-coloured floats, people in costumes from around the world, bands, and horses prepare to kick-off, The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

Across the street, staff and clients of the Drop-in watch the scene unfold. Men and women load-up their back-packs and trudge off to work. Others pick up their blankets and head to the park while others stake out their turf beneath the overpass of the bridge laden with cars streaming into downtown.

A world of contradictions once again.

On one side of the street, excitement. Energy. A rainbow of colour. A panoply of people.

On the opposite side, the tired awakening from a short night's sleep interrupted with the constant stirrings of the mass of people who nightly call the shelter home.

On one side, purpose. Destination. Anticipation.

On the other side of the street, a world of difference. A place where few believe they have the capacity to make a difference in their lives today. A place where all anyone can anticipate is having to figure out what they can do with their day, how will they fill their time, before their next fix. Their next meal. Their next sleep.

Yet, once upon a time, everyone had a dream. As children, they played in the streets with their friends. Tossed balls. Skipped rope. Played hide and go seek. They went to school. Dreamt of growing up and being someone. To count. To matter. To be of value.

Somewhere, out there in the big ole' world of opportunity, a corner was turned. An alley was entered. A path was taken that crossed over to the wrong side of the street. Somewhere, someone got lost in the swarm of humanity fighting their way through addictions, mental disorder, family violence, abuse and the host of other contributing factors that result in one day, their becoming that which they never dreamt possible. Homeless.

I look out my window this morning and watch the parade gather up its floats and horses and marching bands and know that this is the real world. This is the world of life. It's filled with love and laughter. Tears and sorrow. Addictions. Family Violence. Abuse. Mental Disorders. Of shared experiences, dreams being lived, being forgotten, being left behind. It's a world of community.

I look inside the building and around the grounds of the Drop-In and know that this too is the real world. This is the world of life. It's filled with love and laughter. Tears and sorrow. Addictions. Family Violence. Abuse. Mental Disorders. Of shared experiences, dreams being lived, being forgotten, being left behind. It's a world of community.

The difference is where we live. One provides us a label of respect. The other a label no one wants to wear, no matter how tough they think they are. Homeless.

On a hillside overlooking the parade marshaling area, a group of shelter clients have staked out a spot where they can safely watch the parade unfold. Their clothes are dark and grimy. There's not a pink shirt in sight. They lie on the grass. They laugh together. Talk. Watch the life unfolding on the streets below.

On the sidewalk at the bottom of the hill, people walk, shoulder to shoulder. Dressed in bright coloured clothes and cowboy hats, they scurry towards the avenue ahead where in an hour the parade will begin its long, slow, serpentine march through downtown. As they reach the avenue, they stake out a spot as close to the edge of the sidewalk as possible. They set up their chairs, their coolers. Some have umbrellas. Some sit directly on the concrete.

No matter where they sit, there's still a difference. No one along the parade route will get a ticket this morning for sitting on the pavement. For the individuals for whom home is a story of once upon a time having a place of their own, they sit in constant alert for someone to come and hassle them out of the way as the parade sweeps past and city workers scurry about cleaning up the route.

It's a world of contradictions and juxtapositions this morning. At the edge of the city core, I watch the parade of life unfold, secure in my place. I cannot change anyone's life. I can only affect my own. Like Darren however, (see yesterday's post, "Two Different Lives. One Spirit", I want to make a difference. Like the staff and volunteers who give their time and energy to create a world of difference at the Drop-In, I am part of delivering hope, strength, encouragement and vital resources to those who have lost hope on the road of life. One day, they may change direction. One day, they may make a different choice and find their way out of homelessness into the lives they once dreamed of having. Until that day, we continue to hold out our hope and hands, compassion and support to help them stay safe on the streets they call home until they find their way back to where they belong. Their own place to call home.

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