chopping wood, fetching water part three & four

more pieces in our ongoing series exploring the everyday acts of service that can lead us to a heightened state of bliss

Father Emmett Johns – My Life of Service, My Bliss

In 1988, Father Emmett Johns bought Dans La Rue's (In the Street) first Winnebago with a $10,000 personal loan. With it, he traveled nightly through the streets of Montréal giving out food and offering support, respect and friendship to hundreds of hungry kids living on the street. Most of them had never felt what it is to belong to a real family - to be loved and nurtured, respected and encouraged. 19 years later, Dans La Rue still provides nightly meals from 8pm to 4am, 5 days a week. It also runs a day centre called Chez Pops, an overnight shelter called The Bunker and a thrift shop called Frip à Frac. At 79, “Pops” isn't working his usual 10-hour-a-day schedule anymore, but his enthusiasm, humanity and love for his kids keeps him close to operations at Dans la Rue. Below, Father Emmett Johns talks about the work he started and the kids who make his life of service, his life's bliss.

My name is Father Emmett Johns, but everyone calls me “Pops.” I was born April 3, 1928 and am a native Montréaler.

I started Dans la Rue in 1988 with one other person, a young woman of about 21 who knew the streets very well. Now we have 45 full-time employees, 15 part time employees and 125 volunteers. We are open 24 hours a day. The Dans la Rue van operates 5 days a week and we ask volunteers to commit to at least 1 night a week for the length of a school year. That way they don’t stand around meeting strangers, and they could become friends with the kids.

Before Dans La Rue, I'd been working with young people practically all my life, whether it was in parish work, high schools, even in private/boarding schools over the years. Then I got sick: I had a severe depression and was laid out for six months, barely able to do anything. When I came out of my depression, I questioned myself, “What do I do now?”

One Saturday, I was driving to a wedding reception in Toronto, when I heard someone talking on the radio about how he runs around downtown in a small RV offering food, clothing and support and counselling to street people in the centre of Toronto. I went back to Toronto the next Monday to see exactly what this thing was about. And with a few modifications to it, you might say we're sort of an adopted child of a group called the Covenant House (a large, privately-funded childcare agency across North America, providing shelter and service to homeless and runaway youth). Covenant House couldn't come to Montréal because of the language barrier and other problems. So I thought if they didn't want to start it in Montréal, how about giving it a crack myself? So I gave it a crack and we've been in existence for 19 years.

We have regulations about the ages of the street kids that we work with. The first regulation was 12-21, now it's 12-26, soon to become 12-30. These days it seems that when you turn 26, you don't have all your problems solved. I guess that's what keeps me going back: the older kids are not really “older” and still need a helping hand, and so we just give them that helping hand.

Once the kids do get off the streets, it's nice to see them taking an interest in the helping professions. I was invited to one kid's birthday party and met five former kids who are involved in various community organizations. One works with street workers at the YMCA. These kids are doing this themselves. They're not waiting for me to tell them where to go once they get off the street.

I must admit that sometimes I feel guilty that I don't insist on a religious practice for myself or for the kids, but I know that deep down helping others is my practice. Do to others as you would like them to do to you, and then the good lord said “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.” So you do that for people and all of a sudden you find that you're kind of enjoying doing that, helping other people. Some people are shocked when you want to help them, because they don't want any of your help, but they get used to it if it's done with respect.

You say to the kid, “You know you're broke. How are you going to get home? Here are a couple of subway tickets,” and that solves that. But I don't say, “Thank god there was someone around to give you a subway ticket.” I don't preach too much, I just try to lead by example. My mother used to say, “Actions speak louder than words.” That keeps my mouth running more slowly than it would seem.

Phoebe Long: Unity and Co-operation

My name is Phoebe Long. I was born in England, raised in Vancouver, and after traveling around for awhile have been settled on a small island off the west coast of British Columbia called Hornby Island. I've been here for almost 30 years.

My work days are spent as the Team Manager of the Hornby Island Cooperative, a retail outlet and post office supplying groceries, hardware, liquor, and gas to our year round community of about 750 people - a number that triples during the summer season. My days include a lot of administrative details: staff coordination, customer communication, member liaison. In other words, a lot of people work. Currently, I am coordinating the building of a new gas bar for the Co-op.

For my first fourteen years on Hornby, my first husband and I ran a pottery studio from our home while I worked at odd jobs on and off the island to pay the mortgage. After we separated I began working at the Co-op as a cashier. We experienced some serious management problems. At the urging of a friend who was on our Board of Directors, I applied for the General Manager position, on the understanding that we would continue to develop the "team management" approach. All of the mangers have come from the staff pool and we try to operate by consensus - hierarchy is not what we are after. It is not an easy path and we frequently disagree on policy but we persist.

There is a saying on Hornby: the Co-op is the Heart of the Island community. Everything passes through the Co-op: happiness, anger, sorrow, failure, success. We are challenged to represent - to be the best of the community, the collective ideals we wish to embody.

I also have been giving Hatha classes for 20 years and both situations hold the same opportunity. Team work has been an ongoing theme throughout my working life. Essentially it is about unity and living from the inside out. As I learned through Swami Radha, the teachings must be integrated and lived. Separateness is an illusion, and helping others is helping myself.

In spiritual practice, another word for connection is One-ness. Bliss is a big word for me, sat chit ananda: consciousness, bliss, joy. I think the closest to bliss I have felt is a sense of unity, which holds a powerful peacefulness.

For me, the simple moments are the living truth of everything I have studied through Yoga. Truthfulness, harmlessness, non-covetousness, self development through Hatha, concentration, meditation; these principles help me to realize that all the opportunities I need walk through my door day by day.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life