I’m ok with being this old lady in a wheel chair. I’m also ok by this time to be ok just not to fit the profile of what that is supposed to mean. I am one of many wheeling the ‘hood and I am unique. The first thing is that I am most fortunate: I was gifted a very old, very expensive 20-year old chair way back in April 2016 that was wiped out a little later by a truck in a cross walk near the shelter where I was at the time. The provincial auto insurance company replaced that chair with a 5-year old chair that is similar. Then, good fortune of the mechanic’s kind: Wayne fixed my chair complete with better wheels, new brakes and motor, and he charged the battery to where it should be with a range of about 25 miles. Oh boy, oh girl! This means that in a somewhat different order than the old vans that I used to drive, here is the ability to roll wherever I wish to go in the metro area of Vancouver and to bus the rest when there is an event out there somewhere. Do not underestimate the mental health value of this because I use the ability well. I go out there and I greet, talk to, joke and otherwise lift the spirits of my people everywhere I go. And thank you very much!
I wish to tell you a little about two of them today. So, check this out and discover if there is something for you in the idea that I am offering.
There is a small park boundaried in a single block in the heart of our ghetto area: Oppenheimer named for some old pioneer who was important when Vancouver was a mess of shanties, muddy tracks and plank walkways huddled between the remainder of a pristine old growth conifer forest, clustered around what would become a very large important world harbor spread out as yet on Coast Salish land.
I came upon Cate, who was engaged in an art project: she was painting a large mural on the sides of one of those metal containers that are used to carry goods on enormous ships across the expanse of the Pacific from China. Here she is crouched beside the big box, paintbrush in hand: a not so tall, compact older lady who, she told me, had won a contest staged by Carnegie Outreach to decorate this storage building now firmly planted here behind the permanent building housing the kitchen, bathrooms, and community space. And, she is happy and pleased with herself with very good reason. She showed me the drawings she had done of a fanciful landscape, people playing and dancing, trees, flowers and birds. Here she was at one corner painting mountain peaks in shades of blues and icy whites. As older ladies will do, we talked together for about 15 minutes. She lives in the neighborhood and so it is quite likely that we will pass another fine time together, certainly to admire her vision, talent and hard work.
Onward! I troll some of the local alleys just looking to see what there is, staying away from the rough pavement, the stink and the grime of our local needle underground territories further downtown. There is a back-alley population of homeless about which I know mostly nothing except they are there and in peril all the time. Uptown people wish they would simply evaporate.
Hastings street where the traffic is and where groups of our people congregate is more my zone. There are gatherings of our first nations people along the northern sidewalks. They are there to hang out and often there are older ladies and younger men selling Indian cigarettes. As I near the local community garden space, I spy a generously built lady sitting back on the seat of her walker. I’m good at this: I approach her simply by driving close enough so that I can hear her. She is Eunice from Kitimat, a small coastal town up the coast, a late middle-aged grandmother, well-seasoned and wise, with a soft savvy face with lots of mileage visible. I stop, and we simply pause for a moment or several to gaze into our faces. It is known quite well amongst these people that there is a substantial residue of self-righteous bigotry amongst many white folk. I’m aware and I simply sit there long enough for our commonalities to be revealed. She is wearing a hang tag which I turn over to learn her name. There is not a lot to say but there is a lot to absorb from each other. She tells me of some interesting healings that she has done. She comes from a very hardy, very sustainable culture that inhabited many areas of Turtle Island easily close to 20,000 years before the whites arrived to take over and decimate large numbers of people, animals and trees and other natural resources. The legacy is shameful but there is not much shame in my White Lodge peoples who sport an attitude of entitlement rather brashly. We enjoy each other and will again face each other in our grandmotherly peacefulness and wisdom.
You just cannot make this stuff up! It is the kind of stuff that must be sought out. We must have courage and humility to notice in the first place. There must be a wide heart and an open mind to participate in these timeless encounters. This is spiritual food and it is at once cheap and priceless in value to our soul. It is an everyday gift that lasts forever.
Now you know.