Many years ago, I walked into a retreat center in rural Missouri on road-shaky legs. I’d driven 9 hours from my home in Milwaukee through driving rain, and the last 3 hours led me deep into the rural Ozarks on snaking, hilly roads. I remember saying, “Where am I?” as I passed homes flying Confederate flags and a roadside revival meeting place. At last, I turned off the main paved road and crawled along for another mile on a graded gravel road, crossing two low concrete bridges that went through rather than over the creek, until I reached a hill top and the place I thought I was supposed to be… Read more
I’ve wanted to write an essay with this title for a long time. Since my 20th high school reunion, in fact.
I wasn’t going to go, but I impulsively turned in my registration in a wave of nostalgia and curiosity.
I was fortunate to have a group of girlfriends who made high school bearable, and even fun a good deal of the time. They folded me into a warm embrace of belonging, unknowingly keeping me standing when my home life knocked me down. Being in the group insulated me from bullies most of the time and helped me avoid the many pitfalls of teenage life, from skipping school (okay, so Lisa and I snuck out one afternoon…) to drugs and alcohol. We got good grades, played sports, led a variety of clubs, and played in band. The extent of our hooliganism consisted of scamming our teachers for hall passes, pulling sodas out of the soda machine with a yardstick, and tricking our band teacher into letting us out early so we could be first in the lunch line. We had sleepovers, went roller skating, cruised around the square of the nearest big town hoping for something nameless but wonderful to happen. As we took photos on graduation day, arms around each other, I knew for certain that we never would be together again like that. And we never were. Read more
I stopped at my usual station to fill up my gas tank this weekend, getting ready for a week of out of town meetings at schools. The pump was brand new, and I liked the crisp, clean display that was easy to read in the bright sunshine, and the new handle that felt clean instead of cruddy. As soon as my gas started pumping, the display switched to show me the three-day weather forecast. “That’s pretty cool,” I thought. But then, the screen switched to “TV mode” and NFL highlights began playing at an ear-shattering volume. Really? Read more
My partner Doug and I loaded up the Subaru and pointed the car west. We had fifteen days ahead of us, and a loose plan to spend time in the redwoods, on the Oregon coast, and in the Cascade mountains.
The only firm plans we had were to spend the last two days before the long drive home resting our trail-weary muscles in hot springs and taking time for yoga, meditation, and awesome vegetarian meals while camping at Breitenbush Hot Springs retreat center.
My intention for our trip? Be completely present. That’s really it. I knew that if I could be present, I wouldn’t miss out on the trip I was actually on, if that makes sense. I could get so much more out of each day, make the days seem much longer, and create deeper experiences and memories. I could be fully present to Doug, and to myself.
This turned out to be the case. Both of us practiced being mindfully present, and we found that when we were in the mountains, our time in the redwoods seemed like a long time ago, even though only a week had passed. Each day unraveled slowly, new delights and sensations unfolding luxuriously.How often in our regular routines of home, work, home, work do we find that another week has zipped by? The time between Monday morning and the weekend zooms, months flutter past like the calendar pages in old-time movies when they want to show time passing. Birthdays arrive ever more quickly, the older we get.
The antidote to all this zippiness is presence. Read more
I met Julie several years ago because of life coaching. I was a guest presenter in a Coaches’ Group that met by phone and included people from all over the country. When Julie heard that I was in Milwaukee, she got in touch and we started getting together in lovely settings from the Urban Ecology Center to her favorite restaurant, Casablanca.
What I remember most is walking to my car after we spent time together and feeling lighter on my feet and in my heart. Julie lived her life with passion and vibrancy, her huge heart on her sleeve. Even when people pissed her off, she did her best to respond with compassion and healing, and more often than not, succeeded.
The word that I most associate with Julie is generosity. She gave freely of herself, her energy, her love, her friendship. Even when she was dying, she made sure that everyone around her felt the full force of her love and did her best to help everyone feel okay, or as okay as we could in the circumstance. Her generosity of spirit created a luminous glow of love around her, like a blanket that she drew around her for warmth and comfort that we were invited under, too.
She was still coaching and teaching, right until her last day, by the way she gracefully carried on. Julie had her dark moments in this journey, of course, but she immediately accepted her diagnosis and the way things were. Her acceptance freed her to experience and feel and love, instead of grasping and fighting with fear and anxiety.
Julie cracked jokes as she always had, filled notebooks with writing, gave long and deep hugs, and made sure each person felt treasured – all while she struggled for each breath against the cancer that was overtaking her. She and her equally amazing and generous husband Joel created a welcoming space in her room or out in the gazebo on the hospice grounds, inviting friends and family to share time. What a gift! There was food, wine (only for Julie), lots of laughing, storytelling, hugs – they created community among people who were often meeting each other for the first time.
Julie, you taught us all how to live, and now you’ve taught us how to die. You live on in our hearts, and in our lives as we do our best to live with the grace, love, humor and generosity that you showed us. Go well, bright spirit.
My friend Linda posted a fun idea on Facebook. Google your name and see what comes up. Are you a lead dancer with the San Antonio ballet? An artisan cheesemaker in Idaho? A retired music teacher in Miami?
To play: go to Google, enter your first and last name in quotes, and that’s it. Example: “Jennifer Wilson”
There are approximately 1,294,672 Jennifer Wilsons. Okay, I made that up, but there are a lot of us, so I took the very first entry that came up. Apparently, I wrote a book that was heralded as “Best Nonfiction Book of 2011” by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. (Note: Please leave a comment below with your results! A friend of mine discovered he was a 15 year old ping pong champion.)
Written by Jennifer Wilson, it chronicles the adventures she and her family had when they moved to Croatia for a year in search of her ancestral ties. She and her husband and two young children were living the American Dream in Iowa – a house they fixed up, soccer schedules, two careers, and frequent pilgrimages to Target. And, they felt they were missing something vital despite their privilege, primarily time together as a family and a simpler life that didn’t involve consuming, watching tv and playing video games crammed between errands. On the basis of a yearning and a late night of giddy dreaming (a bottle of wine was involved), they uprooted themselves and moved to Croatia for a year. As you can imagine, that year changed them all in deep and unexpected ways.
I was immediately intrigued by the book’s description because my partner and I have a similar ambition. Read more
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