Archives

Simple Gifts

image

It had been a challenging week. An in-box boiling over with hundreds of messages. Frustrating meetings followed by meetings about the frustrating meetings. Everyone was rushing to tie up all of the loose ends before the holiday break and the the internal alarm clock rang–time to close the office a few hours early so that everyone could step back and unwind for Easter.

As I stepped off of the elevator after lunch to pick up a few things I was still multi-tasking, juggling loose papers from the car, an open purse, a trailing shawl and a ringing cell phone. It was my friend, Elizabeth. I was struggling down the dimly lit corridor toward the office while answering the phone, when I saw someone standing at the end of the hall outside the office–it was Elizabeth calling to see where everyone was.

She had taken time from her busy day to stop by the office with a gift, a beautiful basket of yarn that she had purchased at a fundraising event in Minneapolis. The rich garnet and woodsy teal mohair skeins were a soft nest for carefree turquoise cotton. And in the middle of all of it, sleek number ten wooden needles with a rainbow grain. I was already thinking of the relaxing knitting that was ahead.

My gratitude was not only for the simple gift, but for the joy of being remembered by a good friend.

  • How can I be a gift to my friends?
  • Can I take time to make a small gesture that can turn around a day for someone who is juggling work and family responsibilities?
  • What really matters in the long run?

A simple gift.

I thought the day could not be better until I sorted through the mail at home. Amidst the fliers for gutter repair and the electric bill I found a colorful card from my friend, Pat, and a small packet of Mexican sunflower seeds. We had each grown them the previous year in our gardens and she had taken time to track down the seeds and send those to me.

A simple gift that brought back memories of swallowtail butterflies and the promise of lazy summer days. No multi-tasking allowed.

image

 

 

Knitting in the Round: Casting on a Circle of Story

image

Usually when I knit I use circular needles. Lighter than straight needles, circulars are flexible, nimble quick to the touch. Circulars make it possible to knit in the round.

Recently, Mia, a young dynamic young social worker with sparkling dark eyes, asked me to teach her to knit. We had met on a social justice retreat where I was knitting socks on two circular needles. We briefly chatted over a lunch of mung bean soup and warm multi-grain bread, and I was pleasantly surprised when she e-mailed me several weeks later about knitting.

We met for coffee and pulled out the needles. I started to cast on, knit one pearl two, create ribbing. Mia talked about her commitment to counseling women who struggle with poverty and abuse. I smiled at her excitement on becoming an advocate for justice for these women. As she reflected on what had lead her to that path, I saw her childhood in the crisp golden autumn of a Michigan upbringing.

The conversation turned to my daughters so close to her in age and to Aunt Margie who gave me my first set of needles decades ago–to my story.

Finally, we talked about faith.

  • What keeps the spark of the divine within us alight despite the failings of religious structures?
  • How do you get past rhetoric and dogma to hold what you know is true?
  • Where does integrity lie?

At the end of the morning I wasn’t surprised that we had only completed a few rows. Instead we has created a circle of story.

Next time, perhaps we will knit socks.

Quiet Leadership

photo by Taline Manassian

photo by Taline Manassian

We had a day of silence while at Aldermarsh for the PeerSpirit writing workshop. I didn’t know how that would work for me. Life is loud. We are always talking, sometimes all at once, pushing our points of view. But this is a space where cell phones don’t work.

Rather than stare at the wall or cheat by getting on the internet, I took a walk.

In my work at the Incarnate Word Foundation, we are called to the table many times. Board meetings, committee discussions, agency collaboratives and community workgroups–all of these require leadership, and there as many leadership styles as there are leaders. But should leadership be equated with whomever has the loudest voice, or who convened the meeting, or who has the most community standing?

Sometimes the most effective leadership style is quiet.

Sr. Mary was the foundation’s Board chair for nine years. During that time she practiced what I have come to think of as quiet leadership. The fundamentals are simple:

Listen to the ideas of others before you speak.

Don’t become consumed with anxiety about getting your idea out on the table.

Focus on making the outcome one that incorporates the best thinking of the group rather than furthering a personal agenda.

Stay calm and respect the integrity of each person involved in the discussion.

Speak quietly.

When I began walking the woods at Aldermarsh, I started in aimless silence only to become aware of murmuring sounds at every turn, leading me down the path and through the labyrinth.

Photo by Taline Manassian

Photo by Taline Manassian

Shells Cast at Our Feet: Imperfect Beauty

Walking on the beach in St. Petersburg I couldn’t help but look for shells at the tideline.

When I was younger I would search for shells that matched those in book illustrations. Trumpeting conch shells with carnation lips whispering secrets, the whorl of the whelk, sunsets captured in the inner concave of cockle shells. I sought perfection, discarding those that were chipped, broken, barnacled.

Now I scrutinize the broken bits of shells pushed to shore by sea foam. The retreating froth lays down a mosaic of frail pinks, white ivory, faint gull grays on gritty taupe sand.

When did beauty become synonymous with perfection?

What causes us to look past fragments of beauty in search of an ideal defined for us?

Why do we ignore beauty every day without sparing even a quick glance?

I stop–caught by a fragment of a quill shell as its Tiffany iridescence transforms a blade of navy blue into captured lightning. Imperfect beauty.

Blue Hole Collage: The Courage to Be Creative

Blue Hole Collage, 2013

Blue Hole Collage, 2013

Most people that know me would say that I am creative and I would agree. I am a potter, a seamstress, and a writer. I knit every day. But even with all of that, there are times when creativity is stifled by fear.

I remember taking a sculpture class at the museum. At first, I fell right into it. We were using clay–my primary medium–an old friend. My teacher was very complimentary; who doesn’t respond to that? I basked in a sense of accomplishment.

And then one day we went up to the gallery to do some sketches prior to sculpting. I sat before a pensive 10th century Buddha. Nothing–I was paralyzed. How could I draw anything? That wasn’t what I knew how to do. How could I meet the expectations, when compared to my work in clay this would be nothing? What was the right way?

Finally the teacher came over and said, “Why haven’t you started? What’s wrong?” And I told him I didn’t know how. He laughed and said, “Of course you do. Let go and just put what you are thinking on the paper.” And I did. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it didn’t have to be. It was the opening to the creative pathway.

This came to mind a few months ago when I was at the PeerSpirit writer’s workshop on Whidbey Island. One evening early on we were given the option of doing a collage. I was skeptical. How would this help my writing? I am a potter, not a collage artist.

But all of those thoughts were just rationalizations. It really boiled down to fear. How could I create a collage that would pass muster? I didn’t know how to do this. What would people think?

I almost didn’t go that night but the alternative was sitting in my room twisting with recrimination.

I walked over the boardwalk to Marsh House and found a table. We didn’t have hours to do the collage and there was no time for self-doubt.

Within a few minutes, I plotted my course. My writing project centered around the Blue Hole, the headwaters of the San Antonio River, and so would the collage. I shifted through National Geographics and old calendars, at first focusing on anything blue for the water, then beige and taupe for the stone rim. Then came birds, leaves, and branches on the edge and a filmy blue whale’s eye at the vortex. I was caught up in the creativity of the moment.

The Blue Hole Collage opened my mind for the writing that was to come that week. Creativity overcame fear and I was in a new invigorating space.