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Inviting Interruption

Mike. MIKE? MIKE!

Nearly every morning, while our team sits in our front atrium to pray and talk about the day ahead, we hear the same voice yelling out. This typically lasts for 1 or 2 minutes. 

Who is Mike? Above our site at Promise is a housing unit known as an SRO (single room occupancy), which is typically reserved for residents with low or minimal incomes. Mike lives upstairs in our building, and each morning, his friend walks to his window and yells out his name. 

At first, I found this extremely irritating. We would be in the middle of something, only to hear “MIKE” being bellowed outside our door yet again. However, as this continued to happen more consistently, I realized my attitude began to change. I would notice Mike and his friend visit, laugh, and share stories every morning out in front of our building. Fully present with each other, immersed in the joy of each other’s company. I realized my irritation began to turn to curiosity, and over time my curiosity to admiration.

Finding Joy in Interruptions

Is being interrupted really as bad as we make it out to be? Don’t get me wrong, not every interruption is a good thing (as evidenced by my own childhood tendency to pester my mother). But things aren’t always how they appear to be when you are just flying by, and I wonder if being interrupted can help bring us back down to earth. Before I worked and spent more time in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), I would drive through the area, seeing only the surface of homelessness and addiction. What I missed in those passing glances, however, was a community rich in culture and tight-knit relationships. 

I’m slowly learning that there really is something to be said for living life at more of a walking pace, with some margin for interruption. By walking, I don’t merely mean moving slowly. I’m talking about the kind of walking where you have a little bit of buffer to “waste time” if it means forging a deeper connection with someone. It’s hard to create margin living at a hurried pace.

I don’t know about you, but for me, life often feels like the exact opposite of slow, as I constantly run from one thing to the next. Someone might ask me how I am, and the responses busy and tired become all too familiar. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a full schedule, but sometimes I’ve found it has come at the cost of what’s truly important to me. Perhaps this is a byproduct of living in a city like Vancouver that champions the rat-race and defines success by the accumulation of material things, prestige, power and reputation. Much of the time, I’ve been living life at maximum speed, feeling like hustling and being busy are fashionable and to be admired. After all, there is something to admire about a good hustle, isn’t there? 

Creating Margin in Vancouver

In his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer reasons, “Margin is ‘the space between our load and our limits’. For many of us there is no space between our loads and limits. We’re not at 80 percent with room to breathe; we are at 100 all the time.” This is something I deeply resonate with, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Can you relate? 

In 2012, the Vancouver Foundation conducted a series of studies, asking individuals and organizations to weigh in on some of the biggest challenges facing individuals in Vancouver. Much to their surprise, it wasn’t poverty or homelessness that took the top spot. It was loneliness and disconnection. Their follow-up study in 2017 found that 1 in 4 Vancouver residents still felt isolated. In light of this, what can we learn from our friends from the Downtown Eastside who seem rich in community and friendship? Could a lack of haste have something to do with it? 

One thing I have learned from working in the DTES is that many of my friends who are living on the street live life at walking speed, with room to meet and greet people as they walk through their day. In this particular aspect of life, I envy what I see. It’s been humbling. Living in haste rarely reveals my best. Some of the time I am just too preoccupied with my own self-importance to realize the beauty I’m breezing by. To sit and take the time to listen to people’s stories, and in return sometimes share a bit of my own, is a discipline that gives me life. 

Living at a slow pace seemingly clashes with the Vancouver way, but what I see happening frequently in the DTES is refreshing. This is not to glamorize or misrepresent the ongoing struggles some DTES residents face, but I can’t help but think about what opportunities we might discover by giving ourselves permission to be interrupted. The result leaves us with room for the surprise and beauty of the unexpected and unplanned.

Wasn’t this the way Jesus lived? He didn’t have Google Maps to tell him the optimal route to arrive at his destination by a specific time with the extreme efficiency of an algorithm. He walked, invited others to walk with him, and along the way encountered other people who interrupted his journey. These interruptions sparked some of the most significant moments in Jesus’ ministry. I’m no philosopher, but something in me wonders if we were ever met to live life at this extreme speed, with no ability to put on the brakes. Regardless of your beliefs about Jesus, how might your life be different if you made more room for interruption?

As someone who has experienced both an absence and an abundance of margin, the latter is the path I wish to continue on. It’s given me more freedom. It’s helped me think more clearly and make better decisions. It gives me room to listen to the longings and losses of the people important to me.

Making Room at Promise

I care deeply about the kids we serve at Promise Vancouver. If I am too preoccupied with my “busyness” or my preconceived ideas of what I think they need, I will miss the real opportunity to interact with these children in the here and now. Although I’m still working at it, trying to live life with some more margin has helped me become a better listener, a better leader, and a better friend. 

One significant impact of our work here at Promise is providing parents and guardians with some room to breathe. For some parents, the thought of slowing down sounds like a fairytale. But when leaders at Promise make time in their days to slow down and attend to the needs of the children in our care, it provides parents with a buffer to slow down as well. In this way, the benefits of slowing down become contagious. Who might benefit most from you slowing down and creating more margin?

How Can We Begin to Slow Down?

I am no expert at rest, nor am I some new-age guru with special insight into slowing down. In fact, I’m pretty bad at it. But my friend, I hope you can learn from my mistakes. 

Finally, I wanted you to know that if you find yourself hurting, tired, or disappointed right now, you’re not alone. In these especially trying times, I encourage you to start small in whatever you can. Here are a few ideas to spark your imagination:

  • Go for a walk and allow yourself to pause for an extra few seconds on your walk and admire the freshly bloomed flowers or the mountains on the horizon.
  • Create a plan to free up your time and build in extra time between appointments.
  • Ask one extra question when your friend or child is telling you about something they’re passionate about. 
  • Try to resist the urge to scroll through social media in a spare moment you have. Allow yourself to just sit and be bored for a moment.
  • While sitting at your desk, stop to intentionally listen. Pay attention to the sounds you hear around you. Breathe. 

The purpose of slowing down isn’t just to slow down for its own sake. It’s what slowing down can do for us, as well as our friends and neighbours. Breathing room makes space for the things that matter most: the people right in front of us

Someday soon, as modelled to me by neighbours like Mike in the Downtown Eastside, I hope we can all learn to walk again, create more margin for the important people in our lives, and each hear a friend call out our name. 

Mike?

Mike. MIKE? MIKE!

Nearly every morning, while our team sits in our front atrium to pray and talk about the day ahead, we hear the same voice yelling out. This typically lasts for 1 or 2 minutes. 

Who is Mike? Above our site at Promise is a housing unit known as an SRO (single room occupancy), which is typically reserved for residents with low or minimal incomes. Mike lives upstairs in our building, and each morning, his friend walks to his window and yells out his name. 

At first, I found this extremely irritating. We would be in the middle of something, only to hear “MIKE” being bellowed outside our door yet again. However, as this continued to happen more consistently, I realized my attitude began to change. I would notice Mike and his friend visit, laugh, and share stories every morning out in front of our building. Fully present with each other, immersed in the joy of each other’s company. I realized my irritation began to turn to curiosity, and over time my curiosity to admiration.

Finding Joy in Interruptions

Is being interrupted really as bad as we make it out to be? Don’t get me wrong, not every interruption is a good thing (as evidenced by my own childhood tendency to pester my mother). But things aren’t always how they appear to be when you are just flying by, and I wonder if being interrupted can help bring us back down to earth. Before I worked and spent more time in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), I would drive through the area, seeing only the surface of homelessness and addiction. What I missed in those passing glances, however, was a community rich in culture and tight-knit relationships. 

I’m slowly learning that there really is something to be said for living life at more of a walking pace, with some margin for interruption. By walking, I don’t merely mean moving slowly. I’m talking about the kind of walking where you have a little bit of buffer to “waste time” if it means forging a deeper connection with someone. It’s hard to create margin living at a hurried pace.

I don’t know about you, but for me, life often feels like the exact opposite of slow, as I constantly run from one thing to the next. Someone might ask me how I am, and the responses busy and tired become all too familiar. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a full schedule, but sometimes I’ve found it has come at the cost of what’s truly important to me. Perhaps this is a byproduct of living in a city like Vancouver that champions the rat-race and defines success by the accumulation of material things, prestige, power and reputation. Much of the time, I’ve been living life at maximum speed, feeling like hustling and being busy are fashionable and to be admired. After all, there is something to admire about a good hustle, isn’t there? 

Creating Margin in Vancouver

In his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer reasons, “Margin is ‘the space between our load and our limits’. For many of us there is no space between our loads and limits. We’re not at 80 percent with room to breathe; we are at 100 all the time.” This is something I deeply resonate with, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Can you relate? 

In 2012, the Vancouver Foundation conducted a series of studies, asking individuals and organizations to weigh in on some of the biggest challenges facing individuals in Vancouver. Much to their surprise, it wasn’t poverty or homelessness that took the top spot. It was loneliness and disconnection. Their follow-up study in 2017 found that 1 in 4 Vancouver residents still felt isolated. In light of this, what can we learn from our friends from the Downtown Eastside who seem rich in community and friendship? Could a lack of haste have something to do with it? 

One thing I have learned from working in the DTES is that many of my friends who are living on the street live life at walking speed, with room to meet and greet people as they walk through their day. In this particular aspect of life, I envy what I see. It’s been humbling. Living in haste rarely reveals my best. Some of the time I am just too preoccupied with my own self-importance to realize the beauty I’m breezing by. To sit and take the time to listen to people’s stories, and in return sometimes share a bit of my own, is a discipline that gives me life. 

Living at a slow pace seemingly clashes with the Vancouver way, but what I see happening frequently in the DTES is refreshing. This is not to glamorize or misrepresent the ongoing struggles some DTES residents face, but I can’t help but think about what opportunities we might discover by giving ourselves permission to be interrupted. The result leaves us with room for the surprise and beauty of the unexpected and unplanned.

Wasn’t this the way Jesus lived? He didn’t have Google Maps to tell him the optimal route to arrive at his destination by a specific time with the extreme efficiency of an algorithm. He walked, invited others to walk with him, and along the way encountered other people who interrupted his journey. These interruptions sparked some of the most significant moments in Jesus’ ministry. I’m no philosopher, but something in me wonders if we were ever met to live life at this extreme speed, with no ability to put on the brakes. Regardless of your beliefs about Jesus, how might your life be different if you made more room for interruption?

As someone who has experienced both an absence and an abundance of margin, the latter is the path I wish to continue on. It’s given me more freedom. It’s helped me think more clearly and make better decisions. It gives me room to listen to the longings and losses of the people important to me.

Making Room at Promise

I care deeply about the kids we serve at Promise Vancouver. If I am too preoccupied with my “busyness” or my preconceived ideas of what I think they need, I will miss the real opportunity to interact with these children in the here and now. Although I’m still working at it, trying to live life with some more margin has helped me become a better listener, a better leader, and a better friend. 

One significant impact of our work here at Promise is providing parents and guardians with some room to breathe. For some parents, the thought of slowing down sounds like a fairytale. But when leaders at Promise make time in their days to slow down and attend to the needs of the children in our care, it provides parents with a buffer to slow down as well. In this way, the benefits of slowing down become contagious. Who might benefit most from you slowing down and creating more margin?

How Can We Begin to Slow Down?

I am no expert at rest, nor am I some new-age guru with special insight into slowing down. In fact, I’m pretty bad at it. But my friend, I hope you can learn from my mistakes. 

Finally, I wanted you to know that if you find yourself hurting, tired, or disappointed right now, you’re not alone. In these especially trying times, I encourage you to start small in whatever you can. Here are a few ideas to spark your imagination:

  • Go for a walk and allow yourself to pause for an extra few seconds on your walk and admire the freshly bloomed flowers or the mountains on the horizon.
  • Create a plan to free up your time and build in extra time between appointments.
  • Ask one extra question when your friend or child is telling you about something they’re passionate about. 
  • Try to resist the urge to scroll through social media in a spare moment you have. Allow yourself to just sit and be bored for a moment.
  • While sitting at your desk, stop to intentionally listen. Pay attention to the sounds you hear around you. Breathe. 

The purpose of slowing down isn’t just to slow down for its own sake. It’s what slowing down can do for us, as well as our friends and neighbours. Breathing room makes space for the things that matter most: the people right in front of us

Someday soon, as modelled to me by neighbours like Mike in the Downtown Eastside, I hope we can all learn to walk again, create more margin for the important people in our lives, and each hear a friend call out our name. 

Mike?

Graeme Fowler is Director of Community Partnerships at Promise Vancouver.

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3 Responses
  1. Esther Tse

    an important reminder…..
    makes space for the things that matter most: the people right in front of us.

    thanks for sharing, Graeme!

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