But for the Grace

Everyone has a story at Our Place

I believe that life is a glorious, grand, magnificent experience and so, of course, that is what I am finding and experiencing.

I have been so blessed by the:

  • The love, stability and provision of my birth parents
  • A University education
  • Good health
  • A prosperous lifestyle
  • Love of my son and daughter and two happy, healthy grandchildren
  • Meaningful career opportunities
  • World travel
  • Loving relatives and family
  • Warm, gracious living quarters
  • A nice automobile
  • The latest computer technology
  • My Blackberry
  • The freedom and security of being a Canadian
  • A deep abiding faith in a God with whom I enjoy a daily personal relationship with, and am the recipient of countless miracles from. This faith began at my mother’s knee and has carried me though many difficult life experiences.

Underbelly of homeless

My excursion into the underbelly of the homeless situation of Victoria is having a major impact on my 72-year-old life.

I am learning things and experiencing things I never knew before.

Ignorance breeds arrogance, which leads to fear, anger, hatred, disgust, intolerance, judgement; all of which I had before learning from personal experience, not from reading the newspaper or watching the 6 o’clock news.

I went through this same experience 10 years ago when we moved to live and work in China. I was ignorant and therefore arrogant about the Chinese and their culture. During my seven years there, I also underwent a paradigm shift based on gaining first hand, personal experience which led to understanding, and acceptance of that wonderful country, its people, its history, values and culture.

Everyone has a story, is a story. I now know, because I have befriended and met, and listened to people who are

  1. homeless
  2. mentally ill with bi-polar syndrome and schizophrenia
  3. people addicted to cocaine, heroin, alcohol
  4. a young male prostitute who is now in his 40s
  5. an older female ex-prostitute, now reformed, respected, articulate and running for a municipal council seat
  6. someone HIV positive
  7. aboriginal people, real close up

With each story, I came away with the burning thought in my mind. “There but for the grace of God, go I!”

If I had been born into the situation they had, I, too, would have been what they are, where they are.

I now know and have stories that you never read in the paper or see on TV:

  • A story about a courageous Crown prosecutor who gave an addicted criminal a chance for recovery. I personally know the guy who crossed over the bridge from homelessness because of this act of trust and compassion.
  • A story about a sensitive judge who gave an addicted criminal a chance to clean up, instead of sentencing him to jail, and said, “It would be a crime to send this man to prison.” I personally know the guy who is now clean and devoting the rest of his life to helping other addicts gain the same power and freedom that he found through this judge’s compassion and intuition.

A volunteer

Even my tables have been turned upside down.

Ernie, ever the do-gooder, always trying to help people with his books, tapes, discs, and homilies, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah now receives and seeks out the wisdom of an ex-homeless person who is his Metis Elder, shaman, holy man, coach, mentor, deeply connected with the Creator.

I am an eager, grateful, appreciative receiver of his counsel. The pressure is off me now. I now relax and be a receiver.

And so I spent my first shift as a volunteer at Our Place (ourplacesociety.com).

I work in the nutrition bar and my duties include:

  • Serving on the food line, dispensing coffee, tea, apples, bread, crackers, etc. There is a dining room upstairs that seats 145 people,  which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner;
  • Going out into the public area, inside and out in the courtyard, collecting empty coffee cups;
  • Washing the cups in a washing machine;
  • Ensuring the sugar, creamer and water containers are filled;

My first day was a slow day, mercifully for me, the beginner.

It was welfare cheque day, so most of the people were out enjoying being a “millionaire for a day.”

It was party day; they had money in their pockets and could feed their habits freely, without having to beg, steal or suffer.

But today, they will all be back in the shelter, and the homeless routine will continue.

That night, I went to sleep in my nice warm bed, thinking about how the 1,500-plus homeless people in Victoria were faring. Where were they sleeping, what clothing did they have that would keep them surviving the night? The women with children; the older folk? And this scene is being played out in every city and town in the world.

I return to my cozy home, a good meal, comfortable bed, again, thinking, “that there but for the grace of God, go I!” M

Ernie Tadla is: forever learner, spiritual explorer, happiness activist, no-label Christian, volunteer at Our Place (ourplacesociety.com), Metis Elder, Wise Bear Owl, international micro-financier (kiva.org)

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