Monday, May 28, 2007

wedding dreams...

For the last two nights I've dreamt that I am late and ill-prepared for my wedding. Last night I showed up at a small wooden church where everyone was waiting but I was wearing a strange pink dress and kept insisting I was not ready. "Don't worry," I was told. "This is just the practice run."

There was a minister behind a ticket-booth like window who gave me a form to fill out. The first question was, 'Who is the person in your life with whom you get along with the least and how are you addressing this problem?' Apparently I have to pass a conflict studies pop quiz before I am allowed to get married.

I was then in a car with V, driving in snow-filled streets on last-minute errands. We were stopped waiting for something and I offered to run to Tim Horton's to get him a hot chocolate. But I kept missing the restaurant and got lost in the snow. A car stopped to give me a lift, but once in their car I realized we were leaving town so asked to get out. I was walking through the snow when I met a good friend of mine out walking her dog Beemer. She and her boyfriend gave me a lift back to the church where it was now time for the real thing.

Suddenly it was summer again and I was told that my mum had my dress. Someone handed me a long silver gown. "But I've never even tried this on before," I thought. Behind the chapel was a series of curtained stalls to change, with small signs indicating the stalls for bride, groom and wedding party. I was just trying on the dress when I woke up.

Right now I can't remember the other dream, but know that in it as well I was rushing around disorganized and late. I actually have to plan and organize very little of my wedding - in fact all I really need to do is show up. And yet in my dreams I rush and worry. I rush and worry during the day too - but not about that. I guess I save my wedding dreams for bedtime.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Living on the Streets

For four days this month, I was homeless.

For four chilly nights I slept in parks and learned the value of cardboard. I ate at homeless shelters and begged for food. I learned how generous people are, especially those who have the least to give.

This was part of a 'street retreat' called Bearing witness to Homelessness. Organized by a local Shambala mediation center and lead by Zen peacemaker Sensei Gauntt, it was described as an opportunity to go beyond our selves and our limits, to open ourselves to the experience of poverty and homelessness. Indeed it was all this and more.

The 15 other participants and I had been instructed to come to this retreat with warm clothes, a bus ticket, a piece of ID - and nothing else. No money, no watch, no cell phone or notebook. For five days we had not washed our hair; the men had not shaved.

Since we would be availing ourselves of some of the homeless services in town, in order to participate on this retreat we were required to raise $350 for local shelters and services. I am sincerely grateful to my friends and family who collectively gave me $420. For each person who gave, their initials were written or carved on my Tibetan mala which I carried with on the retreat.

But those are the logistics of the retreat. The experience is harder to describe. I'm still processing it.

What stands out most is the time we spent in shelters and missions. In the past I have volunteered and worked at drop-in shelters, but that was always from the perspective of me offering something to others. This time, I was receiving.

I am grateful for every meal I received - made sweeter by the hunger and by the community I shared it with. One morning at the Salvation Army I sat across from an elderly woman with plastic bags at her feet and gold in her teeth. She noticed that I had not taken the small carton of milk that came with breakfast and I tried to explain that I didn't want it, but she did not seem to understand. "Milk," she said again. I went back to the counter and got my milk and gave it to here. "Merci," she said with a smile. There was bacon on my plate, I gestured to see if she wanted it and gladly she took it. "Merci." When she saw I was not eating all my toast, she pointed to those as well. I handed them over and she carefully wrapped them in a paper napkin before putting them in a plastic bag. She got up to leave and I realized there was a small container of margarine on my tray. I touched her arm to get her attention and handed it to her. "Merci," she said again, then bent over and kissed me on the cheek. That kiss stayed with me all day.

'Sharing' could probably be the word that best describes this retreat. Body heat at night, food during the day. When my lips were chapped and burning from the cold and wind I panhandled for $2 to buy a small container of lip balm which soon was being passed among all. A man living at the Salvation Army gave us toothpaste and sunscreen. One loaf of bread fed 16 mouths.

There are so many other stories I could tell. Of old André and his dog Mutt. Of the restaurant which gave us delicious soup at closing. Of the construction of cardboard condominiums. Of circles of sharing and community. Of a man who gave me two bags of groceries when I had only asked for some bread. All together, I feel very blessed.

"Let us forever remember the causes of suffering.
Let us forever believe in the end of suffering.
May we always have the courage to bear witness,
To see ourselves as Other and Other as ourselves."
- Zen Peacemaker cantation