Friday, December 21, 2007

The Miracle of Christmas

Over 2000 years ago, a mother and father huddled together in a tiny stable and witnessed the birth of their child. The story of the Christ child’s birth has lived throughout the years. It touches all our hearts, Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer. No matter if we believe He came to earth to ‘save our souls from Satan’s power’, or if he was simply a powerful prophet, or just a great man whose story has survived the ages, His birth represents the power of love to create peace in the world and to restore our spirits as we celebrate the miracle of life.

Christmas is a time to celebrate. A time when we are connected in love to the miracle of one child’s birth long ago that reminds us, every year, that we too are miracles of birth inspired by the act of love that ignites our journey of life – in all its limitless possibilities.

Last night, as I wrapped presents and reflected on the meaning of Christmas, my spirit lifted. Sitting in my cozy living room, surrounded by twinkling lights and festive bows and crinkly wrapping paper, I felt connected to the millions of other parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers who wrapped and taped and lovingly placed gifts beneath a twinkling tree – a tree that we had decorated together with those we love as we shared in the joy of hanging each ornament, old and new, upon its fragrant boughs. As I wrapped and hummed a Christmas melody (and sipped a glass of cheer!), I felt the power of Christmas surround me. As I placed a pretty bow upon each gift I thought about the person to whom I was giving and my heart was filled with love. In that love lay the true meaning of Christmas. It wasn’t in the gifts, or the giving. It didn’t lay in colourful disarray piled beneath the tree, but in the love that filled my heart as I thought about my daughters, family and friends whom I love so dearly and who mean the world to me and who create such meaning in my world.

What a miracle Christmas is! 2000 years ago a child was born and from His birth has grown this night where the world stops, and takes a collective breath as we join in a song of love, faith, hope and joy. 2000 years ago a child’s birth gave birth to my evening last night. I sat alone and felt the power of that moment touch me. I took a deep enlivening breath and felt my heart expand in love. In that breath, I was connected by the circle of love into which I was born and which encircled my daughters as I embraced the miracle of their lives to change my life. For just as the Christchild was a gift of love for his parents, and ultimately the world, with my daughters' births I was given the greatest gift of all -- the awesome reminder that life is a miracle and each birth a precious gift of love; powerful, enduring, everlasting.

This Christmas, as I reflect upon my life, I am reminded, once again, of the power of love to heal, to make peace and to create miracles. And that is the true meaning of Christmas for me. A celebration of birth, of life, of love. A healing. An awakening. A miracle that wraps us all in a never-ending circle of love.

Here at the Drop-In, we see miracles every day. Small ones. Big ones. Infinitesimal ones. They're the miracle of an addict asking to go to rehab. A mentally disabled person getting the care they need or in the words of thanks from a senior getting a home of their own in Bridgeland Manor. They're in a stranger's kind words to a person lying on the street and someone else coming in to volunteer their time, or to drop off a donation. Miracles come in many forms at the Drop-In and with each one we are reminded -- we are not alone.

We can't do what we do alone. We can't do it without the help of the countless thousands who donate their time, energy and resources to make a difference in the lives of those who have nothing. Thank you.

Merry Christmas to each and everyone of you. May your spirits be light, your hearts full of love and may your world be filled with the limitless possibilities of the miracle of your life as you live each moment, filled with love, gratitude and joy.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Generosity of spirit on the street

People are amazing.

Yesterday we filmed a new TV commercial for the Drop-In, part of the series called, Little Things. The film crew, about 8 people, had all donated some of their time -- an amazing gift as it cut the cost of the already discounted budget by half!

When I arrived on the set on the 8th Avenue Mall at the entrance to the Telus Convention Centre, two gentlemen were talking in front of the large plate glass windows where the cameras were set up. I wondered if they were the actors, (they looked the part) or not -- they were the actors. We chatted for awhile and then the crew went inside.

The plan was to film through the plate glass windows looking out at the street and the two homeless characters outside. The camera would pull back to reveal two well dressed business man having a coffee at a stand-up bar.

The setting outside was surreal, and very believable. One man lay on a piece of cardboard on a grate on the sidewalk while the other sat on a bench behind him. From beneath the grate, two dress steamers blew steam up through the grate outside. A well provisioned shopping cart, complete with bags of bottles hanging off the sides sat at the edge of the grate while a park bench was lined up perpendicular to the windows behind which we watched the scene unfold.

At one point, a crew member went out to give one of the actors direction. As he was talking to the man lying on the ground a female passerby approached, her body posture combative.

"Is this man bothering you?" she asked the man lying on the ground, her gloved hand pointing at the crew member, her voice filled with concern.

The crew member looked at her, surprised. "No," he replied. "We're filming a commercial. He's an actor"

Embarrassed, the woman quickly apologized and left, leaving us all with a sense of awe that she cared enough to intervene, even when the odds were against her. We were all touched by her concern for the homeless actor on the ground.

Awhile later, the actors were alone outside as everyone was busy getting ready inside. Two police officers approached, prepared to move the actors from their resting place. The Director and I raced outside and moved the officers along before they ticketed our actors!

Another woman, carrying a big paper shopping bag, walked by and stopped to chat to the two 'homeless' actors.

"Here," she said to one of the actors as she pulled a big woolen sock out of her shopping bag.

"Merry Christmas" and she handed him the sock filled with toiletries and Christmas goodies which she had been intending to bring down to the Drop-In along with the other socks in her bag.

"Oh no. I can't," said the actor. "I'm just playing the role of a homeless guy for a commercial."

The woman didn't believe him. "Please, take it." She waved the sock towards him.

He gestured to the camera and crew hiding behind the glass.

"Oh!" She laughed. Waved at us and carried on her way.

Joe* is a client of the shelter. He wandered onto set later in the day. He stood and watched the action outside that wasn't really action as the filming had not yet started.

Eventually he came inside.

"Hi," I said as he stumbled towards me.

"Hey! I know you!" he exclaimed in friendly recognition.

We chatted for awhile, his words slurred. He's quick minded. Funny. Self-deprecating kind of humour. "I auditioned for a movie role," he said. "They told me I was too good looking."

"I can understand that," I replied with a smile.

"I could be in this movie," he said, motioning to the actors outside. "I could go out there an pick bottles. I'm the world's greatest bottle picker."

"They'll want you to be sober, Joe," I replied gently.

"Oh that." He scoffed, waving his 'to go' coffee mug in front of him. "Everyone always wants that." He paused and grinned at me. "I gotta drink to get through my day."

"Can I get you some more coffee?" I asked pointing at his mug.

"Aahhhh. I cannot lie to you," he said grinning sheepishly. "It's beer." And he tilted his head back, lifted the mug to his lips and took a long, satisfying swallow.

It was a day of contradictions. Another homeless woman stumbled onto set. Set her backpack on the ground and started to chat amiably with the actors. We watched from behind the glass. They obviously didn't tell her what they were doing there. From her jacket pocket she hauled out a pack of cigarettes and offered them both a smoke.

The generosity of someone who has nothing.

I filled a coffee cup, grabbed a couple of sugar and creams and took it out to her. "Would you like a coffee?" I asked.

She looked at me, nodded her head up and down, her body moving in constant jerky bobs. "Nice," she said. "Nobody gets left behind."

She took the coffee, sweetened it with the sugars, picked up her pack and continued on her way.

The actors continued to hold their positions. People continued to walk by, most trying to avoid looking at the poor derelicts lying on the ground.

A school group wandered past, a mother hastily grabbing her son, tucking him under her arm as she pulled him closer to the side of the building so that they could pass as far away from the scene as possible.

A well-dressed, affluent looking business man walked by. He glanced furtively at the scene of the two men, one lying on the grate, the other sitting on the bench smoking. His face was a study of disgust.

Some walked by, dropped a coin and continued on their way before anyone could object. Others hurried by without looking.

Contradictions. Generosity of spirit. Coldness of heart.

It was all part of the parade of life that unfolded yesterday on the street where so many people live.

Thank you to Trigger Communications & Design Ltd. and Joe Media -- you guys are awesome!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

There aughta' be a law!

Written by: Nurse James, Staff

I am on the second floor dinning hall at supper time. It is a Sunday night, and it is busy.

Even though I am the Nurse for the Drop-In Centre, I frequently come out of my office and help the staff on the second floor, especially around supper time. I get to hang out with the clients, which gives me a chance to know them a bit better and to work with the staff.

Tonight it pays off to know the clients by name and mannerisms.

I spot a client about ten meters from where I am. I am talking with another client about flu shots, and I observe a female client with an unsteady and unbalanced gait. Now I know that working where I do, and at night, this certainly is not an unusual or isolated occurrence. At any give time we have many inebriates and clients that are in a drug induced state. But like I said, knowing this client and seeing her walk the way she was walking was unusual to me.

I cautiously approach her and ask if she is OK. I say cautiously because I know that she is not a drinker nor a heavy drug user and I do not want to seem accusatory in any way.

She has a black eye, and she has several bruises and areas on her forehead that are swollen. Conversing with her for less than two minutes I determine that she has suffered a head injury.

She tells me that she was assaulted leaving the train platform yesterday. She tells me that she was knocked unconscious and that she woke up an undetermined amount of time later, confused, disoriented. A little bit later, she woke up some more and realizes that three hours have passed and that she is not at the train station any more, she is downtown somewhere.

She calls her boyfriend on the phone and he comes to find her and takes her to a Medical Clinic not far away.

She does not have an Alberta Health Care Card.

At the Clinic the Nurses and the Doctors tell her that she is not severely hurt. Send her on her way without checking to see if she needs more of an assessment.

They tell her to return when she has insurance.

As I am talking with her I can see that her left pupil is greater in diameter than her right pupil. The pupil size troubles me, as I know that this is a sign of an internal head injury.

She is having trouble speaking and remembering things, this is another indication she has a head injury. She cannot remember where she was or what she did for three hours. These are all indicators that she has a head injury and that something is wrong.

I advise her that she needs a Doctor and she tells me no, she already tried that route.

I talk with her a little more, and I convince her to see a Doctor that I know from CUPS. She agrees.

The Doctor at CUPS looks at her and calls CUPS transport to have a CAT SCAN and MRI done on her.

She goes to the Peter Lougheed Hospital.

She has a concussion and bruised retina.

The neurologist tells her it is a good thing that she came to see them. Her concussion is mild and will pass within a week or so, but the eye needs to be assessed more thoroughly.

She returns to see me a day later and thanks me for 'strongly advising her' to see a Doctor. As she tells me what the Hospital found on the CAT SCAN, she can see I am not happy at all. She asks if I am upset.


No, I am not upset. Upset is what you get when you spill your coffee in your lap. Upset is what you get when you lock your keys in your car. I tell her I am more than upset.

I am furious. I am extremely disappointed that something like this can happen in our city.

Calgary is one of the most diverse, wealthy cities in North America; maybe the world. And STILL this happens? Someone with no fixed address and poor is told by some Medical Professional that they will not see her and treat her injuries because she has no insurance?

I am more than upset. This should not happen in this day and age. With all of our vast knowledge and our claims to be civilized this person, this human being is slighted and told to come back when she has insurance.

There outta be a law...oh wait a minute. There is a law. Hospitals and Clinics cannot refuse to see a person based on income or insurance status. But STILL it happens. It happens a lot more than I would like to think it does.

I am also happy. Happy that she is alright, and that with proper ongoing treatment, maybe she will have normal vision in her left eye.


Written and submitted by: Nurse James, Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre

DISCLAIMER: The articles posted on this blog are the personal views and commentary of the individual writers.

Song of Joy

Last Thursday night, we had graduation at the Dale Carnegie course here at the Drop-In. In a gesture of generosity and kindness, John and Faye Fisher, who own the franchise, provided the course as their charitable contribution. They wanted to do something to make a difference and improve the lives of those who give so much every day at the Drop-In.

It was a beautiful event, filled with heart-filled stories of people's lives becoming more than ever imagined possible. Of hearts learning the words to songs they've yearned to sing. Of eyes opening wide to the beauty within. Of minds listening to the unique voice behind the speaker.

The assignment for last night was to talk for two minutes about a specific time during the training where one of Dale Carnegie's principles helped each of us do something differently. And then, to spend a minute talking about six months from now as if six months from now was reality.

For me, I talked about the form I had to fill in when registering for the course. One of the questions asked what was my vision for my life? The first lesson in the Dale Carnegie course focuses on building a foundation for success -- thus, it's important to write down dreams and goals and to identify at least one thing I can do differently to be successful -- and then make a plan to do it.

Now, I have always resisted dreaming. Always resisted setting goals. Not that I haven't had any, but my fear of articulating them kept me from actually putting them to paper and then taking the necessary steps to move towards them. Too many voices from childhood clamoured to overrun my dreams with their insistence that I was stupid, or dumb, or simply wrong for dreaming. My fear kept me mired in building sandcastles in the air because I was terrified that anything I did to make my dreams concrete would be washed away beneath the laughter of others. I was afraid of falling and thus, told myself I couldn't fly.

Last night, I stood up in front of the group and claimed my dreams. I stepped into the centre of my light, and cast away my fear of standing in the darkness of my dreams vanishing into thin air because I was afraid of living them. Last night, I spoke of my dreams and claimed my right to create them as the centre piece of my very own wild and precious life.

Last Thursday night, I was privileged to share in my classmates and co-workers doing the same.

What a powerful, moving and inspiring event. To witness wings unfold. To watch in awe as they expanded into the delicate and vibrant beauty of their owner's light shining for all to see. To sit humbled in the glow of the greatness and the magnificence of the hearts beating around me to the beautiful sound of their dreams awakening and their unique voices singing a song of love and joy.

It was magnificent.

For these past three months I have been privileged to hear the stories and to see into the hearts of people who give themselves everyday to the care of those who have lost their voices. Like our clients at the Drop-In, many of us never knew how beautiful our voices were and are. For some, because somewhere in the past someone told them they sang off-key, or perhaps because someone silenced their voices through fear and intimidation and abuse, their voices had never been heard.

Last night, I heard voices in song so pure my tears flowed in awe. My heart beat a wild tattoo of joy.

There is nothing more beautiful and powerful than the human spirit opening itself up to love. Nothing more inspiring than passionate voices rising above the cacophony of the past and singing out in joy for the freedom to be all that they are meant to be.

I was in awe last Thursday night. These are my co-workers. My friends. These are people I admire. I care for. People who inspire me. Who challenge me. They show me how to see and hear the humanity in the people we serve and who, through their example, teach me the meaning of being a magnificent human being filled with gratitude, humility and love.

Thank you to John and Faye, and to the amazing people who assisted in the course -- Matthew, Aaron, Evan, Michael and Patty. Your commitment, dedication and generosity of spirit have created a new world of opportunity for all of us who were privledged to be guided by you through the course of the 12 week program. The difference you have made is seen in the enthusiam and passion we bring to the job every day -- and the fact we can 'take them there' without hesitation! Thank you.