Anyone driving by might look at the house with pity. It was a shack that stood defying gravity and prairie winds. In winter, frosted windows let light spill on the driveway. Not even the deepest cold of an Alberta winter could permeate those walls. Grandma's house. It smelled of cooking, and always, for me, freshly made donuts. Grandma's donuts were constructed of different ingredients than those you get at Tim's. They were donuts with heft.
Grandma loved me. And I loved her right back. I was the ungainly kid. The unathletic kid. The kid least likely to succeed. But Grandma loved me anyways. She and I could spend hours together and each and every one of those moments I felt entirely safe. She had a manner about her - no one crossed her - yet no one feared her either. When I was with her, Grandma's force protected me.
I have a recurring dream of Grandma's house. The dream only visits on nights when I'm sleeping well and deeply. I wander the house, room after ramshakle room. I smell Grandma, her scent was one of soap. Of clean flesh. She and Grandpa didn't have money, didn't have things, but she was never bowed by what life gave her.
Grandma taught me that class had nothing to do with status, or money, or fame. It had to do with bearing, and grace, and purpose. And Grandma had class. She created a safe haven for me. My happiest memories live, today still, in Grandma's house. She gave me then, a gift. An understanding of what safe haven meant. That it is possible to create, for the least loved and the least likely, a place of comfort, rest and assuredness. Nothing could hurt me at Grandma's house.
This, to me, is my quest in the work that I do. I want human service to understand that our first, best goal should be safety. Safe Haven. Sanctuary. When Joe and I were students at the University of Victoria, we - like the stupid kids we were - would go down to the breakwater for a walk on stormy nights. The breakwater was like a long narrow sidewalk that was built out into the ocean. The drop to the water seemed steep. We'd walk as the wind tried to whip us off the top and into the water. It never did, or came close, but the thrill was there.
I told Joe about Grandma's house on one of those walks on the breakwater. I noted how the wind had the waves slamming against the one side of the breakwater and there was calm water on the other. The breakwater was like Grandma's arms protecting and securing what was precious. I had been lucky to have been on the lea side of Grandma's love.
It's important that we all have places where we are safe. Breakwaters and Grandma's houses. Fresh donuts and quiet conversation. This is where we begin in service. First we make safe - then we make lives.
Grandma may have lived in a house that looked like it was clabbored together by a little piggie out of sticks, but there were things that Grandma understood.
I was one of them.