The Magic Of Community In Toronto
Posted by Thu Nguyen on Feb 17, 2019
We've been having monthly lunches indoors at Moss Park Apartments since October and although it's different than the outdoor park setting, so much magic happens indoors too. There's three apartments in the complex (that surrounds the park we animate in the summer) and it's become clear that without the foot traffic outdoors from various neighbourhoods, what we've been able to focus on indoors is to facilitate a small shift in the residents from isolation to community.
After a few months, it feels like hanging out with extended family on Sunday afternoons. Today the volunteer team was all new except for two of us. It so happened that the date landed during Family Day long weekend and on Random Acts of Kindness Day and just a few days after Valentine's. In a spontaneous chat with a friend I hadn't seen in years, she suggested we write Valentine's cards to ourselves and so the theme became Self Love. After the volunteers were done prepping the vegetarian banh mi we had a circle of sharing and reflected on a memorable act of kindness and one thing we do for self-care and self-love. What a rich share and wisdom in the circle... What I found interesting was that everyone focused on small, practical acts of kindness and acts of self care.
In the first hour we had about 40 friends drop in, beautiful conversations, self love letters and delicious food and laughs about the random selection of post- Valentine's cards that included elephant, ox, panda - unicorns and scratch and sniff cards that smelled like taco and pizza. Collectively we made a card for one of our committed volunteers who has been there every single karma kitchen from the start who recently went thru serious health issues and even though she couldn't make it we made sure her and her son got some banh mi too.
We welcomed Emilie Fortin in the second hour who teaches choir singing as a self care strategy. She printed out some songs and brought her guitar and invited everyone to sing along. As soon as the first song, Hallelujah, started, my heart cracked open. Not only was her voice beautiful, to see the room join in, young, old, some guests who don't even speak English...what a moment. For the next hour, we were gifted such beautiful and familiar songs...like Imagine, Across the Universe, Landslide, Yellow and my eyes couldn't seem to find a way to be dry...such sacredness, such peace, such joy. We had no idea how this activity was going to be received today but it was beyond why expectations for our extended Moss Park family.
I was blown away by the generosity of all volunteers and guests and all the invisible hands that make it happen.
I remember welcoming a mother and special needs daughter last summer to a picnic who didn't speak any English... And they've been coming regularly ever since.... Both have a lot more confidence to interact and communicate and...now to witness the art that her daughter makes. Today she made beautiful heart cards for others to write in. What are all the conditions that make today possible and what are all the ripples of today? That's beyond my pay grade but feeling so much gratitude to be a witness to this all.
A few days ago I hosted a small awakin circle at my home, there were two new guests who live in my building who decided to come. One retired woman shared that she saw my invitation while traveling in Vietnam, visiting a non profit that teaches differently-abled folks a skill/craft. The magic of a small circle, sharing and dinner is how much emerges. She spoke about growing up in Holland during WW2 and German occupation where she saw many people suddenly "fall asleep", being liberated by Canadian troops all the way to how she became a yoga teacher. Both guests had read a blog post I wrote a few months back when coping with gunshots in the area and there was a rich sharing about living in Regent Park. I'm not sure how come it took over a year to start inviting my neighbours to awakin circle... Given all the shifts I've seen in Moss Park and the deep ties forming a community there one meal and smile at a time, it feels so nourishing to see the start of the shifting from being a resident here in Regent Park to the beginnings of a community here too. I got email from a guest saying, your home feels like coming home.
Oh now there's a Karam (Generosity) Kitchen in Sarnia where students are serving meals cooked by Syrian chefs...inspired by ours. And others thinking about how to bring their apartment/condo residents together with food, activities and sharing inspired by what they've seen at Karma Kitchen Picnic in the Park. And our friends at Building Roots now have a free library of books in the market, enable anybody to pay forward weekly produce baskets to Moss Park residents and continue to show up in that space with incredible community organizations to uplift the community.
There's no shortage of everyday heroes here in Toronto and I'm feeling very blessed to cross paths with more everyday. 1.5 years after moving back home from the Bay Area, it has been the smile cards, 21 day kindness challenges, awakin circles and karma kitchen that has sparked so many deeper ties with my family and friends and community. Its pretty amazing how many awesome Canadians are oriented towards small acts of kindness and leading a life of service. My friend who co-organizes Karma Kitchen texted today saying "There's truly something special going on and rippling out", my response was, "what a time to be alive and be part of this shift!" (update: we were featured in our Toronto City Councillor newsletter this week! )
Lots of seeds being planted for movie circles, conversations to share stories of residents in Regent Park, circles in Moss Park this year.
Much gratitude to Servicespace and all your noble friendships for opening my eyes and heart to the million trillion connections here in Toronto and showing me how to surrender and flow as the ripples ripple on.