Sunday, August 7, 2016

Chautauqua and me - the Bag Lady reflects

When I quit my last job six years ago, I had three goals for the first year:
  • To learn to teach English as a second language. I took an online course and finished it with great reluctance. I found out I don't want to teach - can't figure out how to make up lesson plans - or even tutor. I do like training other people, though, and I have done that.
  • To participate in a Habitat for Humanity build in a city that was affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I helped with several Habitat builds in my own area and then went to Louisiana on a Road Scholar (used to be Elderhostel) service trip. I found out I don't have the stamina to work all day at physical labor. Plus, I'm afraid of heights, so I'm useless with scaffolding, roofing, and ladders.
  • To take a Basic Mediation training course. I did this, in the last week of the first year of my non-work life. I loved it. By noon of the first day it seemed to me that my whole life had led me to this place. I completed 140 hours of coursework and training and became a certified mediator in November of 2012.
I have mediated about seventy times as a volunteer in the last three and a half years. I still love it. But I want to do more.  

In September of 2015 my husband Art and I took a trip to Eastern Europe. We were in Budapest at the same time as the first tide of Syrian refugees arrived at the train station there. Five days later, taking the train from Lake Bled (Slovenia) to Munich for our flight home, our train was stopped and service cancelled in Salzburg because refugees were walking on the tracks to get into Germany. We left the train and spent a couple of hours in the Salzburg train station, looking for alternate ways to get to Munich. In that train station were several hundred refugees, standing and sitting on the floor. They wanted to find a new place to live. I spoke very briefly to two women, to wish them luck.

When we got home, I could not get those refugees out of my mind. 

Then, in October 2015, I spent five days on Vashon Island, near Seattle, with five other writers in a workshop. Our last activity was a ten-minute write on the famous last line of Mary Oliver's poem, "The Summer Day": "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Here's what I wrote:

I plan to say yes. To whatever comes along, especially if it's unexpected. I've said this often recently: I'm standing in an open field, forest all around me. I'm waiting, with my arms stretched up and out, for what it is I am supposed to be. Not do. Be.

I have at my feet all my gifts: intelligence, articulate expression in the spoken and written word, the ability to listen with sensitivity and care, a passion for creating understanding between and among. At this point I have no idea how that will turn out. Who will enter the clearing? Will they arrive on two legs or four or none? Will they be visible or just a spirit or essence? I am sure I will recognize their arrival quite quickly, regardless of their form.

Most of my bucket list items have been crossed off. What's left, I think, are the intangibles; what I don't yet recognize should be on that list. Three opportunities have arisen this year, all related to connectedness in different arenas. So far, I am still saying yes, knowing I'm on a right path.

Who am I to know what it is I'm supposed to do? What will the yesses to come be about? "We are all in this together" has been my mantra for a while now. Who are we, and what is together? I have to keep saying yes. That's the only way I'll know.

In March of this year a friend from my faith community invited me to Chautauqua. I had heard about it for years but had never gone. I said yes and sent my money for the week of July 31 - August 6.

And in April of this year I found out that an old friend was going to volunteer in August at a refugee camp in Greece. I asked if I could go with her - before I even thought about it - and she said yes, and I cashed in 60,000 frequent flyer miles for Seattle to Paris to Athens and back.

I saw Chautauqua and Greece as separate trips, unrelated except for my anticipated enjoyment of each of them.

Then, last week, I went to Chautauqua.

Each summer, the Chautauqua Institute presents eight weeklong sessions centering around a theme. Week 6 this year, which I attended, was on "The Future of Cities". Lectures by experts in the sacred and the secular on the theme, plus a myriad of other activities.

Plus culture: opera, symphony, dance, strings, a cappella musicians, percussion. Every night something, included in the cost of the weekly gate pass. I went to the ballet, the symphony, and a string group. It has been ages! 

The Chautauqua campus looks like Disneyland for grownups - beautiful old homes along streets that were built before autos, fabulous gardens and old trees. People on foot everywhere. Kids riding bicycles, teenagers. People with canes and scooters. Men and women from all over the country  - mostly east coast, I think. I'd go to a couple of events and be so full up in my brain and my spirit that I'd need to take a break.

These signs reflect the spirit of the place.

Each morning of the week I attended an interfaith service - very rare for me - presided over by Rev. John Philip Newell of Scotland, who is deeply influenced by Celtic spirituality. A morning lecture on some aspect of cities including David Simon of "The Wire" on police and the drug wars in Baltimore. An afternoon lecture on some aspect of religion in the cities including Reverend William Barber II, who electrified the DNC two weeks ago.

On Sunday, the first day, the incoming impressions and images were random, disconnected in my mind. By Friday, I'd had an experience of growth and synchronicity that I wouldn't have believed.

I saw that my experience at Chautauqua and my upcoming trip to Greece are inextricably connected. I would never have guessed. That saying "yes" to using my willingness and my talents are the right idea. That I am being led by something bigger than me. 

Here's what I'll take with me to Greece from Chautauqua:
  • The recognition that I am privileged but not because of anything I have ever done
  • The belief that I have a moral responsibility to use my gifts for something that benefits the greater good
  • The awareness that I do not know what other people need; that they will know what they need and I will do my best to serve them
  • My continuing belief that we are all in this life together

Last October I wrote, I'm standing in an open field, forest all around me. I'm waiting, with my arms stretched up and out, for what it is I am supposed to be. Not do. Be.

As Mary Oliver says in Evidence: Poems

"Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed."

 Ah, Chautauqua!


Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Hooray! What a wonderful, uplifting experience I just had, through you. I didn't know about the spiritual aspect of Chautauqua. Your take-always will serve you well in Greece, I am sure.

Bonnie said...

Your experience is so inspiring! You provide an example of how to continue to learn and grow and give back, making the second half of our life meaningful and memorable. I will be looking into the Chautauqua

Barb said...

So,so glad you got to here JPK, he has spoken and conducted seminarspahoe here and at out church many times.

Anonymous said...

You have done a good job.

DJan said...

It's really inspiring to learn how your willingness to say YES has grown and changed you. I am so excited to learn more about it all during our own little Chautauqua at Vashon Island. :-)

Deb Shucka said...

Beautifully written. Amazing insights. I can hardly wait to see where this path takes you. The world is a better place for your presence.

Contrarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Contrarian said...

You are an inspiration!

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

You're an inspiration, Linda! I love your concept of saying "Yes!" and being open to giving in whole new ways!

Arkansas Patti said...

How interesting at an age when a lot of us are just learning to say "no" you have shown how saying "yes" can be the optimum response.
Your openness to learn has always impressed me. You go girl.

Dreamer said...

Inspirational! I love the way that you look at life.

Linda Reeder said...

You continue to amaze and inspire me.

Tom said...

We loved our week in Chautauqua in 2014, and your report is inspiring us to go again.

Terra said...

How exciting that you are embracing these big transforming things, and I agree with you, they are interrelated. Saying 'yes' to opportunities is uplifting to you and those you will serve. On my blog post today about my volunteering I quote Mother Theresa "We can not all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love."