Dreamscape Two – a holy communion

Now the one about the older woman…

She is old.  While taller, by feeling she resembles my Oma, my father’s mother who loved her son, her grandchildren and great grandchildren fiercely.

Always independent, as her husband lay dying of cancer, Oma, in her sixties, learned to drive, maneuvering the freeways, charming the immigration officers as she crossed the bridge to Canada, to us, with her VW Rabbit stuffed with gifts and groceries.  Decades earlier, in the little Black Forest town of Germany, during and after World War II, she worked three jobs to support herself and my father.  Those were her best years, the ones she storied for us with joy, pride and determination.  Until she came to live her last years in Canada, close to her family.

But this woman of my dream is my height and stature.  And she is Italian.

I am in Italy.  I have just finished a simple, homemade, delicious dinner.  I may be with a friend.  I have been staying here for a while, long enough to have become familiar with, close even to the Nonna who prepared this meal.

She has been a teacher to me.  I feel a deep love and appreciation for her in my life.  In my broken Italian, I thank her for the good, good food.  We laugh together at my attempts to say just how good…

”Insalata, ahhhh…. buonissimo!  Si?”

She encourages me, asks me what else I’ll eat.

“Il dolce?” she asks and playfully hugs and tugs at my body to see if I can afford to let myself have this sweet, the sweetest part of the meal, of life?

I hug her and say in Italian “I love you” through the tears I am now crying, through an even deeper sadness that is suddenly coming up from my depths.

Holding her, despite her strength, suddenly I know she is dying.  I see her face and while she is not my Oma, Oma is evoked.  I love this woman very much.  Again, I say, in Italian, “I love you.”

Again, and again.

Epilogue

Last October I awoke quietly crying from this dream.  I was on a favourite island in the Pacific Northwest – it has become one of my heart places – where, without fail, I spend most nights immersed in vivid dreamscapes.

The convergence of mountain, sea and sky energies are a great catalyst for my dream maker’s talents, though I’m not always able to retrieve her creations, so plentiful that I often awake feeling tired for the travelling.  However, that pre-dawn morning, the dream and feelings it evoked, deeply moved me, and stayed with me for hours, making it easy for me to journal, to contemplate, and finally to glean its gift. Even now as I write, it’s easy for me to conjure the scene and its characters, to step back into the story, to taste those feelings.

With reflection I realized that in my dream, in my broken Italian, I had said to this Nonna, “Mi’amo,”  thinking I was saying “I love you” when really I was saying, over and over, “I love me.”  The dream maker never errs.  This was not a Freudian slip.

This wise old woman, this Nonna-Oma feeds me, loves me, plays with me, teaches me.  I eat her food.  I take in her love, her joy, her playfulness.

I ingest her.  I take her into me.  She becomes me and in so doing, is dying.

A holy communion.

A few weeks later, I read a dear wise woman words about the necessity for us each to take back and eat the hope we have projected onto others, to nourish ourselves so as to become our own hope, our own leaders, and our own fiercely loving, joyful, playful Nonna-Omas.

Watching a Full Life Come Full Circle

Circle-of-Life-635x476A few decades ago, once a month for a week for a few years, I’d pack my bag, drive up the road to the Nechi Institute: Centre of Indigenous Learning and co-teach modules for their Advanced Counsellor Training program.  Sometimes I’d be paired with the same staff trainer, making the dance of co-teaching more fluid with time.  On other occasions, when those trainers were taking Nechi’s programs to other parts of Canada and beyond, I’d be partnered with guest faculty.  Always a rich learning experience taking me to my edges as I immersed in First Nations-Metis culture and came face to face with anxiety, prejudice and racism – mine, theirs, ours.  I remember particularly the week I worked with Vera, an Eastern Cree medicine woman.

We were studying individual and families.  Drawing from my clinical social work training, my role was to give theoretical credibility to the curricula, introducing established clinical frames.  I looked to my co-teachers and students for help to contextualize this into indigenous worldview.  In this case, Vera helped us see how a life fully lived comes full circle: that we leave the world much as we came into it, small and frail, with the characteristics of an infant, depending on others for life.

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A few weeks ago, The Scientist and I made the trip “home” to visit our families, to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday, to spend time with his parents.  Both in their nineties, in January they made the overnight move from the house they purchased after emigrating from Germany in the mid 1950’s, into a retirement-care facility to support his father’s declining health.  A farm mechanic who finally applied his trade as after serving in WW II and being taken prisoner of war – “came home no longer a boy, but a man who I fell in love with,” blushes his wife – Dad still received calls for help from the Niagara farmers well into his eighties. Two summers ago, still vibrant with a strong embrace and hearty laugh.  Now, small and frail, using a walker, eating pureed food.  When not sleeping, looking around with wide-eyed curiosity, yet less and less present to in-the-moment conversations.  One foot in this world and the other in the next.

As I bent to kiss him good-bye on the cheek, I thought of Vera’s lesson and saw the truth of it in my father-in-law, a man who now was becoming more child-like in appearance and disposition.

As we drove to the airport to make our return home debriefing the highs and lows of our visit, The Scientist said he heard his father quietly say in a moment of crystal clarity, with his family bustling around as he sat at the kitchen table,  “I’m happy.”

The simple, sweet statement of what has always given him joy.

For Old Age

May the light of your soul mind you.

May all your worry and anxiousness about your age

Be transfigured.

May you be given wisdom for the eyes of your soul

To see this as a time of gracious harvesting.

May you have the passion to heal what has hurt you,

And allow it to come closer and become one with you.

May you have great dignity,

Sense how free you are:

Above all, may you be given the wonderful gift

Of meeting the eternal light that is within you.

May you be blessed;

And may you find a wonderful love

In your self for your self.

John O’Donohue

 

Forsythia

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For the first time, in a long time, forsythia in bloom.  Granted, nestled in a sunny sheltered south exposure, and still, can you recall the last time you saw those golden yellow flowers, made like a child might draw his first night-time star, in the middle of a prairie April?

I was driving to the boulangerie when those blossoms caught my eye.  Yes, we have one here in our prairie city.  The real deal owned by a real French baker.  The testament to his fine levain loaves, a line up of folks, big and little, out the door and onto a sidewalk bordered by bicycles, baby buggies and scooters.  I smile to myself coming upon the scene, imagining how much more Parisian than here in my own winter weary prairie city.

Taking my place, feeling a bit pressed for time, I acquiesce to the moment and notice in front of me the iridescent wisp of colour in a child’s hair.

“Tell me, how did you catch a rainbow in your hair?”

Her fit and handsome father shares the story of his sister, their aunt – gesturing to his two other daughters a bit further down the street, each with barely-there colour shot through their dark manes – treating them to this bit of feminine whimsy when they visited her in Nelson a month ago.

“Hard pressed to say ‘no’ when she does me the gift of babysitting,“ he shrugs.

“When in Nelson…” I smile in return.

By this time all three sisters huddle in together with us, now perched in the doorway, on the threshold of reaching our morning’s shared destination.

“Do you have children?” he asks.

A quiet “no” and gentle shake of my head.  Inside, I’m surprised he thinks me young enough.  Then again, it might simply be the way I engage with his.

Loaves chosen, bagged and tallied.  His for lunch with family, tomorrow’s brunch with friends.  Mine for tonight’s dinner I’m eager to prepare for my husband and me, to re-create the crostini sampled at last week’s cooking class.

Goodbyes exchanged, together with wishes for a good day.

Driving home, those forsythia again catch my eye as I wonder who else to invite, to share with me my sudden love of this splendid spring?  The fine French baguette and a bottle of good wine?  The heady perfume of purple hyacinth?  The golden glory of those first time in a long time forsythia?  The memory of three young sister-beauties with the colour of spring woven in their dark hair, wishing for a moment they were mine?

Creating Relational, Cross-generation Spaces

ulab-overviewFor the past two months, together with over 25,000 others, I was part of an experimental global learning community hosted by Otto Scharmer and his team at MIT.  Called the U.Lab, it was a six week experiential journey down and up the U, as in Theory U, bringing to life Scharmer’s most recent book, Leading from the Emerging Future (2013).  In addition to deep listening practice, “tweeting impressions,” reading, posting and responding to reflections, contributing to “wordle” summaries, and hosting a weekly face to face learning “hub” in my local library, I viewed several hours of video presentations by Otto and interviews with guest faculty, including his mentor, Peter Senge.

In the final week, and last segment of Peter’s interview, he said a few things that deeply resonate with me and give affirmation to my work:

“Well, I think a lot of the most important leadership will come from people in their 20s, and actually people 10 years earlier.”

“And, again, it’s a real tragedy when people are so busy, trying to get it done, that they’re not paying attention to the relational space they create. Because this relational space they create is what will determine what gets done.”

On Being Parker CourtneyOne morning last week, while sitting with my dear old Peggy dog, I tuned into one of Krista Tippett’s podcasts from her wonderful On Being website.  Titled “The Inner Life of Rebellion,” it featured Quaker elder, educator and activist Parker Palmer, and journalist entrepreneur, Courtney Martin, in a cross generational conversation about the inner work of resilient, sustainable social change.  Listening, I was particularly struck by their genuine respect for each other, and to their mutual commitment to creating relational, cross-generation spaces in which to share and witness the stories that have potential to transform us and our world.

During and since, it’s been my heart’s delight to be in several of these spaces, from the evening where fourteen of us gathered to consider how we might work together “unusually” (and I had the sudden, somewhat daunting realization that for the first time I was the oldest in the room!), to the sorta-surprise morning birthday party at the Duchess for one of our younger friends who left family abroad to make family and life here, to the monthly community of practice meeting I co-founded from the Leading in Emergence learning labs.  Intended as a “practice field,” a safe space to allow our alumnae to prototype the new behaviours, mindsets and cross boundary collaborative cultures (Leading from the Emerging Future, 246), I participated, again as the oldest in the room, in a thoughtfully hosted conversation on how safe space is created within government and with its constituents.

copy-cropped-InsideOutsideLeadershipHeader8I look ahead, with the energy and promise of our lengthening days, to knowing I will soon, again, have the honour of cohosting two such spaces.  In early June, together with Marg Sanders, we’ll be gathering with twenty women for our third annual Inside Outside Leadership weekend, this year focusing on transitions.  And in late September, I’ll be co-facilitating a Peerspirit Circle Practicum with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, and Beth Sanders.  As Christina and Ann are actively transitioning out of this teaching work, it may well be their final training, as they pass the torch to others of us in The Circle Way community. P1060618

If you are yearning to sit in, or are keen to polish your skills in convening such rich spaces, please click on the above links for details and registration.  I’d love to have you join us and welcome you to take your place.