Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When Bad Stuff Happens

I’ve lived in the North End, in William Whyte, for nearly seven years now.  The North End has become my community.  I’m proud of my community and want to see it thrive.  I don’t like it when people who don’t live here say bad things about the North End.  So I do my best to find positive news stories to share, drawing attention to the good.  I think it’s important.

However, I can’t deny that bad stuff happens in my community.  The crime statistics are all over the news.  But statistics never tell the whole story.  The bad stuff affects people—real, live people—all different kinds of people.  So, what do people do when bad stuff happens to them?

We just experienced vehicle damage and theft in broad daylight, and not for the first time.  The financial toll is plenty to deal with, but the emotional cost is greater.  It feels like our community is betraying us.  Doubts, fears, anger, and grief tumble around and life feels upside-down for a while.   Eventually, after repairs are made and life settles down, we begin to trust again.  

What do people do with worse injustices—attacks on their home or their person?  I think of my pastor, who, in commemorating the loss of one of his flock, visited the local hotel where she died, and for no apparent reason, was jumped by five guys and lost four teeth.  Beyond the physical pain and loss, what happens to the heart?  How does one proceed?  Keep caring?  Trusting?  Giving?

I believe a couple of things are important.  First, we need to feel the feelings that come up.  For us, there were tears.  And questions.  And anger.  Our family discussed inventing a crazy kind of security system that would essentially punish offenders on the spot.  I’ll admit, we were quite gleeful over the idea.  It returned a sense of power and control after feeling helpless.  It made us laugh.  All part of healing.

Second, we need to have people to share with and support us.  I quickly emailed family and friends and asked for their prayers.  Just having people know and empathize helped. 

Finally, we need to forgive.  Forgiveness was not my first response.  If only we could make them pay!  And then I remembered, “I need to forgive.”  Forgiveness doesn’t mean we pretend something is okay when it’s not.  Forgiveness counts the cost, but chooses to let go of the grudge, knowing it will only continue to bring more damage.  Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy”.   

Forgiveness sets us free.

Bad stuff happens in the North End.  In the whole world, actually.  What we do with the bad stuff will either bring good or more bad.  It’s up to us.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Good-bye Autobins

The problems are evident

Beloved bin beside the new bins

Adios, Autobin

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Beauty and the North End

As I was walking in the community, I was struck with how important beauty is.  This thought came to me as I noted the lack of beauty reflected in the barrenness of a completely paved lot surrounding a residence, the garbage accumulated over winter, the run-down buildings and fences, and the boarded up windows and un-landscaped yards.  As I turned a corner, barred windows came into view, but in the same lot there was a garden and gazebo-like structure.  What a difference that bit of creativity and promise of living things made in how I perceived that home—even with the bars on the windows.  It was a breath of fresh air—a stirring of hope for me and for this community.

I’ve lived in the heart of the North End for nearly six years now.  When we bought our home, the yard was undeveloped—dirt and weeds—with dilapidated fencing on either side.  We’ve had great plans for our yard.  Some have become a reality, some have shifted due to economic constraints, and some just haven’t happened at all.

I have to admit, at times I am just lulled into complacency by the lack of attention that the majority of yards receive in my area.  At other times, I feel pulled in so many directions that my yard is the last thing on my to-do list.  Sometimes, I’ve let fears of looking too rich or becoming a target for vandalism or robbery get in the way of improving my yard.  Most of the time, I’ve experienced what I think many in my neighbourhood experience:  the lack of resources and skill/knowledge to carry out my ideas, and the feeling of helplessness and despair that goes along with that.

Thankfully, we managed to get an exterior fix-up grant our first year and were able to have a solid fence installed.  We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to do on a budget.  It’s amazing what a little planning, planting, and perspiration can do to make a yard feel welcoming and uplifting.

That’s what beauty does.  It infuses hope into our hearts.  It makes us want to linger in its presence.  It says, “All is well and all shall be well”. (I’m indebted to John and Stasi Eldredge for some of these thoughts).  We feel safer in a place of beauty.  That’s what we need in the North End.  Places of oasis, of life. They don’t need to be flashy or expensive.  Simply picking up the garbage that flies into my yard, planting a few seeds into a pot for my front step, pulling some weeds, or painting my front door can help.  It all makes a difference.  

It does take time.  Sometimes it feels risky.  Sometimes we may want to give up (like I felt when the paint on my door peeled off or when someone stole my Christmas garland), but we must refuse to give up.  Beauty is important.  So let’s work together at making the North End a more beautiful place to live.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Easter, Jesus, and the North End

He was homeless.  Got in trouble with the law-enforcers.  Hung out with the wrong crowd.  Was arrested.  Betrayed and abandoned by his friends.  Mocked, spit on, stripped, and beaten.  He died a criminal’s death.

This was Jesus.  He wasn’t from the North End, but from Nazareth.  Still, I think he could relate to many in this neighbourhood.

He lived a simple life with not too much to call his own.  He learned a common trade in order to get by.  He told great stories, and cared more about people than image.  He got angry with greed and was compassionate with the needy.  He fed the hungry and reached out to the outsiders.

This was Jesus.  He didn’t walk the streets of the North End, but I think he would be welcome here.  He gave and gave and gave, right to the end of his life.

He was misunderstood, lied about, and mistreated; and yet, he didn’t fight back.  He walked a path of peace.

He challenged the leaders of the day, he chastised the self-righteous, and he was a champion of the oppressed.  He walked a path of justice.

He rescued a woman from death, he healed the sick, and he ate with outcasts.  He walked a path of mercy.

When he walked the path of the cross, his mother was there, sobbing for the son she lost.  His friends were devastated and confused over his untimely death.  They couldn’t believe he was gone.

And on the third day, when the women came to the tomb and he was gone—nowhere to be found—they were frantic.  Angels told them it was good news: he had risen just as he said.

He called Mary by name, he beckoned doubting Thomas to touch his hands and side, he walked and talked with two friends who didn’t recognize him until he paused to give thanks for a meal they were about to eat; and when he finally left the earth, he promised a counselor and comforter would come and take his place.
Jesus walked among us as one of us.  He embodied love.  He enacted justice.  His life, death, and return to life continue to give hope to people around the world.  And hope is what we all need, especially here in the North End.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Fresh New Year

I’m enjoying the mild temperatures, but I long to wake up to a fresh, thick blanket of white snow covering everything (un-raked brown leaves, dirty slush piled on the side of the road, garbage, and every tree branch, fence post, and sidewalk), just like it did at the end of November.  A fresh snow would go well with the fresh start of the New Year.  

We’ve closed the chapter of another year with all of its trials, troubles, mistakes and muddles.  Just as snow covers up all sorts of messes, the New Year causes our difficulties to disappear from sight as our focus shifts to the clean white page in front of us.  We begin to make plans of all we’d like to do, and the possibilities seem endless.

Of course, just as well-wintered Winnipeggers know that the pristine whiteness will not last forever, we all know that the year ahead will not consist only of ideals met.  In fact, as we leave the portal of New Year’s beginning and forge the path to where we want to go, we may suddenly feel bogged down by the reality of all the hard work required to get to our destination.

What we need to do is take in the beauty all around us and enjoy the journey.  See the squirrel scamper across the snow and up the tree.  Share a laugh with travelling companions.  Maybe even make some snowballs and play a little.  Try not to rush toward the end goal, getting frustrated and irritated at the slowness of it all.  Trust that everything will work out in the end.

It’s not always easy to trust though.  The newness of the snow wears off.  Clumps of snow drop from the branches, cars spit up bits of brown, un-shovelled steps grow slippery as the temperature shifts, and the wind can pick up.  There are dangers and pitfalls ahead in the New Year, no doubt.

If we let the inevitability of problems steal away our joy as we the turn the page of a new year, we rob ourselves of the dual energies of joy and hope to fuel our endeavours.  Joy comes while we’re living in the moment, revelling in all we have and can be thankful for.  Hope looks to the future, trusting that there will continue to be reason for thanks, and therefore, joy.

As I enter this New Year, I am thankful to live in a neighbourhood that allows me affordable housing, a chance to know my neighbours, and the freedom to be myself and follow my dreams without having to conform to an image.  I am hoping to get more involved in making my community a better place to live, and in making my home a safe place for people to gather.

We’ve been given a fresh start called 2012.  Let’s celebrate the New Year and all it will bring.  And let’s ponder how we can participate in our communities to bring goodness, joy, and hope!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Peace for Our Communities

Living and working in the North End, my family and I have the pleasure of hearing church bells now and then—from the Holy Ghost Church on Selkirk and the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral on Main near Redwood.  These bells chime in a predictable and comforting pattern amidst the more chaotic sounds of gunshots (I always hope they’re firecrackers), sirens (which we hear often), honking cars (particularly annoying between 11 and 6), and yelling (which we fortunately don’t hear too often).

With Christmas approaching and snow on the ground, I’ve been drawn to singing Christmas carols—those comforting and predictable songs that return every year as part of the Christmas tradition.  When I first started singing them as a child in church, I didn’t fully grasp their deep and profound messages.  As I grow older and experience more of the pain and tragedy in our world, I am gripped by the poetic expressions of carol writers and wonder about their experience of life.

I think of “Good King Wenceslas” and the story of a king and his page who witnessed a poor man gathering wood in a snowstorm and how they attempted to bring him food, wine, and logs for his fire with this message from the writer in the final verse:

“Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem which became a carol when John Marks adapted the following words and added music:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of Peace On Earth, Good Will To Men

…And in despair, I bowed my head,
“There is no peace on earth”, I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of Peace On Earth Good Will To Men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With Peace On Earth Good Will To Men.”

As we face the harsh realities of murder, violence, family brokenness, and addiction in our communities, may the timeless words of Longfellow breathe hope into our hearts.   May we all join him by wishing peace and good will to everyone we meet.  

If you’d like to hear this carol and others, please join me at Sam’s Place just across the river at 159 Henderson for “Christmas in Story and Song” on Wednesday, December 21st at 7:30.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sustaining Beauty in our Community

When we moved into the North End five years ago, the community garden on the end of my block helped me feel more comfortable in my neighbourhood.  That splash of colour and beauty did a lot to brighten my street and welcome me.  Actually, there were two gardens: one on either end, but the other one was vandalized a few years ago and has since been dismantled.

It's amazing what a few flowers and a bit of care can do for a neighbourhood.  As my kids have grown, I've enjoyed showing them the different plants and discussing their colours and shapes.  I always wondered who spearheaded the garden project and who maintained it.

I finally learned who is responsible.  First, I'd noticed two composting bins go up.  Seeing signs instructing users on which one to add to, I assumed it was a community compost heap.  I was extremely delighted, as I have wanted to put my fruit and vegetable scraps to better use, but have been too intimidated to start my own compost pile.  Since I go by the garden quite often, I could envision easily carrying my pail there and dumping it.  I just wasn't certain if I was allowed.

 Then, when I saw people working in the garden, I was very excited my questions would finally be answered.  I talked to one of the ladies as she trimmed onion stalks.  She was actually under the weather, but working hard and willing to answer my questions.  I gathered that the compost bins were not intended for community use, but rather for the garden itself--its spent plants and so on.  I was a bit disappointed, but not deterred.  “Could I still contribute?” I asked.  She thought perhaps I could, and gave me the number of the person in charge.

A few days later, I received confirmation and a few clarifications.  I found out the garden, as well as a half dozen others, are run by the William Whyte Residents' Assocation (boundaries: the south side of Redwood, north side of Selkirk, west side of Main and east side of Arlington).  Ours is the only perennial garden, while the others are solely vegetable plots.  Those with an interest in gardening, who lack the space, can contact Annette at 582-0988 if they're interested in signing up for next year.  The WWRA meets every month on a Wednesday at Pritchard Park.  They offer a variety of programs to improve life in our neighbourhood, including a Toastmasters Club, snow clearing for seniors, youth drop-ins, and a Citizens on Patrol Program.

I'm now happily collecting my carrot peels, apple cores, and other various organic materials and adding them to the mix.  If you live near Aikins and Redwood and have a basic understanding of composting, you're welcome to contribute as well.  I'm proud that our neighbourhood is participating in sustainable garden practices while adding beauty and hope to the community and its residents!