Daunted by “dare to understand”

My heart went into full flutter on hearing that my once stuffy birth church was introducing an initiative designed around Krista Tippett`s Civil Conversations Project. O joy! O rapture! Clearly my February 2019 was on the same fabulous “Can you believe this happened?” trajectory as January had been.

For almost five years – since just before my very first conference in March 2014 –  the North Star principle guiding my personal & professional lives has been doing my best to get people connecting with each other. Here was my beloved birth faith, once so seemingly hide-bound, being part of Interfaith Philadelphia’s version of Krista’s Civil Conversations!

Sunday a week ago was an interesting introduction, using as its core theme something that, as a Krista devotee, left me a bit baffled, but I went with it & was richly rewarded by the evening’s large & small group discussions.

This past Sunday, John & I went to the New Church LIVE morning service, the first of three related to the Civil Conversations Project (CCP). Pastor Chuck’s talk centered around Interfaith Philadelphia’s core CCP theme – dare to understand.

Found myself remembering Mom, who would have agreed whole-heartedly with Chuck’s message, yet was – unrecognized by herself – daunted by what “daring to understand” means.

Mom, born in 1910, was raised in a time where women were expected to keep a happy home, an edict she took to heart, a message compounded by her self-absorbed widowed mother who expected her middle daughter to make her life work.

Understanding what her surviving parent wanted was essential to Mom; understanding anything about Gran was not. I’ll go farther – – understanding her mother would have made mine terribly unhappy, as Rena Davis Reynolds was one hot mess of a human. From an early age, Mom found that the emotionally safest route was knowing what a person wanted & staying clear from understanding the person..

I have no idea when Mom started equating understanding with agreement, a trait I found frustrating exasperating arrggghhh. For most of our almost fifty years together, Mom could not get her head around being able to understand something that differed from her personal beliefs.  Mom had children with complex challenges yet she reduced things to the simplest factors. It didn’t matter if the stories she told herself had any grounding in reality – – if they made life palpable,  they registered as reality.

Mom would have loved Chuck’s talk, might have written him a note expressing appreciation. But would she have understood daring to understand? Could she have gleaned the possibility that she could truly understand an opposing belief without sacrificing her own?

I learned a lot from seeing how my mother experienced the concept of understanding, but what made them good, uplifting lessons is the reality that Mom DID ultimately dare to understand. For most of her life, she thought that we are meant to see ONLY the good, smiley face things in others, that dark things should be ignored or reframed as sunny.

In 1998, my mother – Katharine Reynolds Lockhart – – dared to understand by taking steps to understand herself better.  She sought to understand her older children as they were at that moment, rather than see them them through the sweet soft lens of childhood.  To her last day, Mom found it hard to see the person rather than her imagined ideal, but she recognized that & did her best to move past it, to see love accept us as we were, not as she wanted.

Mom was always tougher, more resilient than she gave herself credit for, although by her final years, she could see & dare to understand that she was & always had been a total badass.

Something that Chuck’s talk – he only had 30 minutes – left out that I consider essential is that to take the dare to understand, we need to step back, detach from our SELF & hear without attachment to our own history.

That’s something learned from Mom, who for most of her life dragged her past history with her, like Marley’s chains. It was when she stopped being daunted by daring to understand that Mom could step out of being enmeshed with others & her own past, when Gran’s venomous voice stopped dripping in her ear, when she was freed to be simply in the now, hearing what she she heard, experiencing what was present to be experienced.

Finally, here’s a great aha gained from my mother – – when it comes to daring to understand, the most important, most daunting person to see accept love is ourself.

INSPIRED Inquiry

Once upon a time, my little hometown made its best effort to pull off the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) method of breaking down a community’s strengths, using them to grow constructively better, socially richer & spiritually deeper. AI starts with the intriguing & insightful assumption that communities, like all organizations, are social constructs “created, maintained and changed by conversations.” Following the AI initiative as it is intended & designed proved a bit much for the naturally VERY hierarchical small town, but it left hearts minds energies engaged & seeking.

This month, the church that is the heart of my little hometown introduces two new initiatives, both natural builds on the Apprciative Inquiry work of several years back. Like AI, neither is unique to my town or church; unlike it, both are part of a broader effort across many groups sharing common beliefs, albeit in different ways.  Glorious!

GODLY PLAY “teaches children & adults the art of using religious language and to help become aware of the mystery of God’s presence in our lives… The wonder of God is opened… (It) focuses clearly and deeply on the child’s spirituality. This evolves, enhances, supports and enlarges the quality of relationships  in other activities for children and their families… (Godly Play) is about engaging the child to be a member of a circle and to wonder about God’s inclusive presence through story.”

That gives me goosebumps. I plan to take part in the 3-day training – once I figure out how to find & fill out the registration form!

The CIVIL CONVERSATION PROJECT kicked off Sunday a week ago in the cathedral social hall, led by a team from the non-traditional New Church LIVE team. The heart of the project, birthed by Krista Tippett & her team out of their fifteen years producing On Being’s radio broadcast & podcasts, “an emergent approach to conversations and relationships across the differences of our age.”  Through a variety of resources & events, it helps large & small gatherings of others – friends, strangers, pleasant acquaintances or (often most daunting) close intimates – engage in genuine conversations grounded in generous listening, open & kind sharing.  It aims to help a culture often depleted of connection find ways & means to initiate & carry on conversations, especially around topics that typically spin us into discomfort or upset.

Language ~  conversation ~ initiating & sustaining  tender discussions ~ enlarging inclusive circles ~ deepening our appreciation of each other ~ embracing & putting language around God’s mystery & power ~ giving all of that & more, much more a place in our lives.  I’d say it was a spectacular eight days, with the promise of so much more – –  this Wednesday is a 3-hour online training that offers a deeper appreciation & greater skill set for encouraging initiating growing civil conversations within groups & across chasms; this weekend (once I figure out how to register) is the 3-day Godly Play training.

It’s exciting to see how both of these freshly minted church endeavors connect back to the Appreciative Inquiry efforts of several years back. Plant a seed & see what blooms – might be what you expected, might be a surprise, but the blossom is wondrous, no matter how large or small, lush or modest, glorious orchid or sweet daisy.

Appreciative inquiry, civil conversations, godly play – each is rooted in INSPIRED INQUIRY. Each embodies & reflects the subtitle of Krista Tippett’s must-read book, Becoming Wise – – an inquiry into the mystery and art of living.  Of living wisely & well.

 

 

Happiness is our destiny – what I’ve learned from a life with the very old

John Leland’s excellent New York Times’ series on the year he spent engaging with six of the city’s “oldest of the old” – – 85 & up – – is one reason my digital subscription to The Grey Lady is priceless. His book, Happiness is a Choice,  was one of my most cherished reads of 2018. Meeting him two weeks ago at the Upper East Side’s Lenox Neighborhood Centerwas a joy. Some day, John & I will kick off a friendship over brunch!

We have a lot to share – where he spent a year among NYC’s elders, I’ve been singularly blessed to spend a lifetime in close contact & treasured friendship with a coterie of my own, a godsend I’m starting to fully appreciate for all the real-life experience & insights it continues to bestow.

Growing up in a warmly knit community bestowed on me the gift of regular, as-natural-as-walking-up-the-road contact with the oldest of the old.

Two doors up – – leap frogged over Stan & Gina Rose’s house – – was Miss Ashby, who often welcomed us “lads & lassies” to her porch for tea & cookies & a chat. She was a dormitory student in the local high school in 1903.

Up the steep lane past Miss Ashby’s house was Cranches, an elderly couple who welcomed the neighborhood children to delight in their  wondrous playhouse.

Two doors up Alden Road from Miss Ashby was Otho Heilman, the elementary school principal when my considerably older siblings walked up the hill to classes. Born in 1888, Mr. Heilman was the kindly grandfather to the kids around him, always beckoning us in for a visit, milk & some of his homemade cookies.

Across from him was Dr. Whitehead, a professor at the local college, who was a boarding student at the same college in 1907.

Almost forgot Arthur Wells  – – “Uncle” Arthur – – who lived just down the hill, who cultivated award-winning cactus ~ Class of 1906.

His sister, Marjorie, was the only grandmother I ever knew & her husband Don Rose, a columnist & theater critic for a major Philadelphia newspaper, the only grandfather. Both welcomed me as a faux grandchild- a “fictious” Rose. Pop-pop was a kid when he died, a mere 73, but Grandma (born 1891) lived deep into her 80s. Their house, which has a terrific story all its own, was a five minute walk from our house, even less if I cut through Linquist’s yard & Kenneth Synnestvedt’s woods.

These were the olders elders ancients directly on my radar as a child. They don’t include Peggy Hyatt, or the Smith’s, or Behlerts, also up there in years when I was a youngster, but people I knew only enough for a wave & a cheery hello. But I knew them on sight & they knew me, which meant a lot to a kid who loved connection.

It hit me today, snuggled next to John in that cozy state between sleeping & deciding to fully wake up, that I’ve been blessed to live a lifetime not just with but as part of the “oldest of the old” set. Because of the unfortunate experience of a lousy financial advisor losing all the money Dad left, I had what turned out to be the good fortune to have Mom with me all of my life, a blessing-in-disguise that was compounded by the fact that many of Mom’s best buddies – Cornelia Stroh, Benita Odhner, Viola Ridgeway, Consuela Rosenquist – were many years her senior. The stories they told over lunches at Nanny’s, whiskey sours before Friday Supper, coffee & cake! And I got to soak them all in!

John Leland spent his year with the oldest of the old. I spent my whole life there. He learned happiness is a choice we make. I learned it is a natural outcome of aging ever upward – – what we’re created to experience. Our destiny.

What am I going to do with this morning’s great aha?

 

It comes down to this…

The fact of the matter is that I don’t need a cheerleader or a life coach or a guru of any kind  ~ ~ I need a partner.  Like I need John as my love & life partner, I need someone who sees things I don’t, a sounding board & butt kicker, the architect & engineer to my innovator & visionary. Yup, that’s what I need, more than investors or boosters. A partner who does for me professionally what my Keet does personally ~ ~ combine my gifts & graces with his or hers to come up with WONDERFUL.

Now, where to find him or her? Let the search begin!

Bryan, my Very Godsend

Fairy godmothers are all well & good in fairy tales, but in this here & now real deal, there’s nothing as bodaciously empowering as a Very Godsend. My friend, Bryan, is the most recent – and spectacularly POWerful – to be plunked down in my life, providing awesome tools to transform each moment into fantastic. All without a magic wand. Like all the rest, his caring heart makes the magic happen.

Most of the Very Godsends in my life come & go without ever being seen, recognized, which never bothers them because they are not in it for honor, glory or gain. Most are never even aware of the changes they wrought or the blessings left in their wake, never aware of being a Very Godsend.

My thoughts go to my earliest KNOWN Very Godsend, Kenneth Stroh, who asked a core question when I was seven – transformative as much for the asking as for the actual inquiry:  it might have been the very first genuinely interested in my thoughts question ever asked, coming as I did from a solidly NON-inquisitive family.

Next up, the first Very Godsend that was obvious from the start – Emolie Kessler Asplundh. Something in me caught Emilie’s eye. She was the director of my high school production of The Gondoliers, I was one of many Venetian maidens in the large chorus. Emilie took me under her wing, having me to her house for tea & chats, sending wondrous Christmas presents that spoke a more sophisticated me. Twenty years after our first cuppa, a nosegay of flowers from her greenhouse crowned my wedding cake.

For years, I’ve tussled with how to approach writing the book that keeps yammering to be written. Setting out to share thoughts on Bryan – will get to him – got me thinking about all the improbables, the out-of-the-blue people who set my life on its ear in most wondrous ways, who flipped switches or greased grooves. Who opened my mind to see awe. Very Godsends.

Darn good book material – positive, real, forward moving. It ould open others to realizing & offering thanks for their own Very Godsends, seen & un.

Onto Bryan. The first time I was aware of Bryan, it was a glorious spring day.  He was sitting outside my beloved Be Well cafe, working on his laptop. Something about him snagged my attention. I made so bold as to stop by his table & open a conversation. The first words he spoke, the gleam in his eyes, the vibes that pinged around him – he drew me in his orbit & am happily still there.

Bryan, a serial entrepreneur/socialpreneur, hung out at Be Well while his home office was revamped & renovated. He’s rarely there these days – haven’t set eyes on him in weeks. The last time I caught a few words, he was about to meet another hustle bustle business brain. Am forever grateful for the months that Bryan was down the counter from me!

As with most people who became friends with me, my first thought was how generous he was to share time with me. Shook me up, realizing at 66 that was still my default. Yet Bryan was clear that he dree something important from our talks. What an indescribable blessing, knowing in my bones that someone with an intriguing mind found ME engaging.

While some people dream of giving a talk on the main TED stage, my dream, from its first gathering, has been to regularly attend the Aspen Ideas Festival ~ ~ Bryan has worked with The Aspen Institute. I crafted a unit on the Nobel Prize to teach my at-risk high school students about the breath of science ~ ~ Bryan was part of the recent World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Spooky wonderful.

Like Emilie, like my friends Dave & Candy & Janie, Bryan sees someone in me, an aspect of myself  that’s eluded my own awareness.  Unlike most, Bryan GOT how it eludes me, shared tools he thought might lead to my great unleashing.  Put them right in my hands.

Bryan isn’t at Be Well like he was. He’s barely there at all. I miss our talks, miss how deeply massaged my brain is engaging with him, blessed by how he helped me STOP assuming others find me all bluster & no brilliance.  He jogged the great aha that change happens with clear focus AND elevated emotion; that the drag on crafting lasting productive change is due to more than the sweet familiarity of limited & limiting old ways, that it’s tightly tied to body-mind imbalance, & how to bring that right.

My dearest deepest clearest hope is that Bryan is my tipping point, the Very Godsend who, standing shoulder to shoulder with all the rest, accomplishes the great unleashing.  He’s done his invaluable bit, as all the others have & continue to do theirs.

The one question left to be determined – will I do mine?

 

Lesson learned – Amory, expressing thanks

Losing Amory, aka The Best Cat In The Universe, just over a year after he swooped into our lives & absconded with our hearts (including Chessie’s), taught me the importance of telling those who matter most to me how much they mean, how priceless they are to me. It felt, after he was gone, that I didn’t say it anywhere near as much as I could have.

Saying it mattered squat to Amory – words were just so many sounds, while he knew our feelings, heart to heart. It mattered to me. I made sure to tell & show Chessie & all our kitties how much each one has enriched my life. Alpha’s quiet reflective ways won our hearts, Chessie was snug in knowing we held her to be queen of the kitties, Gryf was my Boy of Boys – my heart is made for red fur due to that marmalade tabby, Rennie was the glue that made the cats into a clan, Lakota’s deeply spiritual aura left us in awe. When they slipped from us, I had an album of moments of gratitude with each. That matters to me.

Sky has a suspicious looking growth that gives me great pause. The earliest we can get an appointment at the vet is 1:30 p.m., Monday. He is, by all informed guesses, far & away our oldest cat, supposedly ten years old when he came into our care in spring 2008. For years, we have kidded him with taunts of “Don’t you know you are an OLD kitty?” as he leapt up onto the island or hustled up the steps to our bedroom or MEOWED with a vibrato worthy of a tiger, not a wee small black cat.

Max, our Furever Kitten, officially the oldest of the cats, since we know when he was born – 14 years ago this month – is dropping weight, is a bit lower, more mellow. That could be due to age, or something more serious.

Whatever happens with Sky or Max or any of our dear kitties, each is told on a regular basis how much s/he means to us & why.

Six weeks before my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I took the opportunity to tell one of his good male friends – who was waiting with me for Papa to pick me up from a holiday party – how much my father meant to me. Was grateful for havkiing done taken that moment to say something, to express appreciation – such opportunities can slip by too easily.

Humans or cats, loved ones can never be told too many times how much we care.  A priceless lesson I learned from The Best Cat In The Universe.

Point of Peculiarity

Had a tussle with myself as to whether to post this here or over on Here to There & Back Again. Right here won out, in spite of it being a rather personal post, because it shrieks from the rooftops about the intense growing pains of reaching from stage to stage.

Am feeling every bit like the pupa of a butterfly, where the caterpillar has digested itself, leaving enzymes needed for the transformation into a glorious creature of flight & beauty.  At the moment, am feeling caterpillar soupish, an ooze of potential WOW.

It astonished me, back in my DVHS teaching days, to discover that a caterpillar, from birth, have within itself sacs containing the materials for a butterfly’s eyes,wings, legs et al.  While I have no memory of learning it from Professor Brock, back in my high school days, reading about imaginal discs in my mid-50s, in prep for teaching my own botany class, left me drop-jawed & riveted.

First off, what a wildly wondrous name! And what a truly fantastic idea, that everything that was the caterpillar is digested & used by the material in the imaginal discs to give form & function to the butterfly – – a creature that walks the earth & munches plants transformed into one that flies & sips nectar, all by using the material that was within it from birth.

At this moment, am feeling very much at a point of peculiarity.  Having to stop, once & for all, being the old in order to be what’s been within me all the time. It is HARD being utterly & completely a new creature! Self digestion explains a lot of the painful moments I went through last year. 2018 was a very oozy year for me. Just ask John.

Be Well was a wonderful protective place for me to safely pupate, but the hard core friendship that I crave like a butterfly craves nectar are not going to form there without a nudge. Will always cherish wonderful friendships shared over cafe au lair & Almond Joy scones, but my spirit craves more, and more is only possible by drawing on the digested parts of my former self now available to fuel formation of the winged creature that takes flight & DOES fabulous things, that exists & creates in the real world, outside the cocoon of dreams & longing.

Do not dither. The imaginable discs that staryed forming into something potentially spectacular even before I started to emotionally pupate – as happens in some species – have come together into a recognizable form.

Human nature would have me pause, have me prefer a familiar  status quo of ooze to boldly unfurling wings & flight.  Do I continue to choose my long-time comfy cozy cocoon or rise up & embrace my spiritual self. At this moment, am a butterfly in imaginings only, a pupa ooze in my daily choices.

How is this point of peculiarity resolved, for it will, one way or another – nothingness ooze or ab fab butterfly?