Sharilyn Clowes is a friend I made several years ago, not long after we had both moved to Ratho. She always knew she was here temporarily, but that didn’t stop us from forming a strong friendship. Sharilyn and her husband, Brian, had just been travelling around the world by bike, and I was inspired to hear of her adventures. Right here in Ratho, she did some really beautiful community-building, community-enhancing, and community-connecting. (There will be a little more from me on this at the end of the interview…) She is now at home in Canada, creating an incredible homestead and forging a more settled existence. The time difference and her hectic summer schedule meant we couldn’t Skype our interview. Thankfully she writes beautifully, so here are her very own words!
Can you tell me about an early experience you had in your life where you felt aware of a being included, or a strong sense of belonging to a group beyond your family?
The first one came very quickly to me: camp! I began attending camp when I was just 5 years old. That one week in the summer began to permeate through all the other weeks of the year. Reminiscing about the time spent, dreaming about what next year would hold. As I began to get older, the one-week-a-year ritual grew. I started my counsellor training and began to work throughout the summer. It was a place I could let go an be myself – all about fun! I developed skills in areas I didn’t have other opportunities to try. I made some incredible friendships that lasted for years. Even when I wasn’t at camp, I’d spend hours looking at photographs and writing lengthy letters – some of which I still have! I went for a visit last year (first time in close to 20 years) and it was like coming home!
Tell me about the most welcoming person you know. What do they do that works well to welcome other people into their home, friendship, or community?
The most welcoming person I can think of is Lise Wilson. She is the kind of person you could never forget meeting. I’d read in books about the air changing when someone walked into the room, but hadn’t experienced it until I met Lise. A brilliantly beautiful person who’d always shout a loud welcome when you saw her. I had the honour of working with Lise in her ceramic studio, which was a place she created and others craved to be a part of. Even before I worked with Lise, I would go there. It was a place where the rest of the world was left behind and you could just be yourself and create. Lise was someone who lives each day to the fullest – a life with no regrets – and inspired those she met to do the same.
Can you tell me about a time when you felt a strong sense of agency as a local citizen? When you felt you had power in you to “be the change you wanted to see in the world”?
You’re going to love this next one, Linda because I think I’m going to say it was Ratho! Living there was the first time I started to feel a part of a community and not live a life in independent isolation. I had come from a small town and spent many years running away from it! But the welcoming I received here opened my eyes again. I saw people who weren’t just living in one another’s pockets, but working to make the place they lived better. I was inspired to see a number of groups forming who worked at various causes. The parental involvement in extra curriculars in the school astounded me! These people were not content to simply let things be and grumble about it. If they didn’t like something, they started working towards making changes – and accomplished them! This was a very different mindset to what I was used to, and I wanted to be a part of it!
Can you describe what is going on for you internally when you meet a new person or group of people? What mix of emotions is going on for you?
When meeting people, I feel like I am myself 2 people. There is a part of me who holds back, is scared to be in a group setting and nervous about meeting others. Then there’s the other side that rises to the occasion and likes to be the leader of the group. It doesn’t seem like the two should be able to go together. The more time I’ve spent travelling and meeting other people the less air time the nervous side gets. I find that some of my best memories and experiences have come from spending time with PEOPLE. Alone time is good, but I can’t let that take over my life. Stepping out of the comfort zone and meeting people results in the greatest benefits.
If we keep in mind an idea that there may be “layers” of community building; nurturing your family, accepting friendly invitations, welcoming new neighbours, connecting/introducing people, starting local projects, facilitating events… Tell me about the situations/experiences where you feel you really come to life and can make your best contribution.
Right now I have NO IDEA how to respond to your last question! I can look at other people and say that they’re nurturing or they have great sympathy towards others. I can see the organizers and the inspire-ers. But what am I? I don’t know where I fit or what I’ve done…I can’t say ‘yes!’ to any of the examples of what you’ve listed and don’t feel as if I’ve ‘shone’ on any either. Sorry, I guess we need to ‘talk’ a little more about this!
Well, here I can perhaps step in! In writing these questions, I knew I wouldn’t have thought of everything, and perhaps none of the examples I offered rang true for Sharilyn. What I see in her, and the reason(s) I invited her to be one of our focus people, is and incredible energy to create a good life, living in harmony with the people around her, her environment, and the planet. I am always awestruck by the way she does things properly, from scratch, by hand. For example, I remember her getting the side of a pig and using every part of it. Nothing was wasted; everything was valued and respected and used. She cured her own bacon, for goodness sake! Amazing. Sharilyn is a wonderful host, another part of her community building/connecting gifts. A meal at her house involves home-made bread, home-grown vegetables, foraged berries, and always good company. Sharilyn, as she mentioned earlier, was inspired to become immersed in community life in Ratho, and she used her personal gifts to offer puppetry classes for children in the school holidays, and to help with the local talent show. So she is a host, a connector, and a worker from the common good. And she’s my friend!