Tag Archives: Friendship

Be grateful for every opportunity…

Gratitude drives my life…at least I try to let it drive.  I’ve posted a video on this blog about Gratitude, which is narrated by David Steindl-Rast.  This is an opportunity to listen to David Steindl-Rast a bit further, via this TED Talk.  I happen to completely agree and subscribe to the idea that Gratitude leads to happiness…Gratitude leads to joy…Gratitude leads to a joyful world!  So take the time to listen and be grateful for the opportunity!  Be well my friends…

 

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My heart is full; my mind is empty!

Yesterday I had the huge honour of being a wedding celebrant for two friends. We first agreed I would take on the role almost a year ago, and it feels like a significant milestone has passed. I have had dreams about dropping my notes in a puddle, not being able to be heard over an unfortunately placed bulldozer, and improvising some hideously unfunny jokes. But when it came to it, nerves vanished and I just enjoyed every second.

I am still kind of overwhelmed by the experience, plus I stayed up until after 1am, which is unheard of for me at the moment! So I am not capable of offering you a proper reflection on the experience or what it meant. What I know is this: to have such a role in helping two people publicly declare their love and commitment to one another is the greatest privilege I have experienced (and I regularly get to hear people’s deepest dreams for a living!); to be invited, with my partner, to be part of the whole day at the wedding gave me a profound sense of inclusion and belonging; and, finally, James and Simon really know how to offer true hospitality. It was a day of thoughtful creativity, where every aspect of guests’ comfort was anticipated and fulfilled, and generosity was boundless. Nothing felt flashy or formal. Everything was kindness and gratefully received contributions from friends and family.

James and Simon, I cannot put into words how deeply I wish you happiness and fulfilment in your life together. Congratulations, friends!

Love!

Love!

 

 

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Taking action with, and on behalf of each other…

Every so often, and in this context I mean ‘rarely’, you come across a human being who simply gets it.  We here at Come In From The Cold are making a concerted effort to have conversations with folk living in such a way; we can’t help but ask them questions relating to the threads we are curious about on this here blog.  Tom Kohler tries to welcome people from all walks of life to walk and wheel together.  Through Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy (http://www.savannahcitizenadvocacy.org/), Tom makes it his life work to see what it looks like when “Everybody is in the room.”  Perhaps the even more groovy learning of Tom, whom I met in 2010, is the notion of living the practice of welcome no matter which hat you are wearing at any particular moment, of any particular day.  Simply put, Tom is a Savannah citizen, writing letters to the editor, connecting people across assumption and generation, as well as raising a family, and being a son within his family. Tom is on a quest to co-create and sustain, what he refers to as “The Beloved Community”.  I’m honored to call him a friend and mentor…so enjoy a glimpse into Tom’s world.

Tom...with a hint of mischief...and class!

Tom…with a hint of mischief…and class!

 

We began our conversation around remembering when it was Tom felt truly included to a person or group of people, beyond his family.  Tom reflects, “One is my first carpool. You know the carpool, with 4 or 5 kids in the car, parents rotate every 5 weeks. There was something about that group…we were tight. An early, tight gathering. Every single morning, piling into the car and seeing the same 4 kids. It’s the carpool and there they are. You could be in a bad mood…grumpy about having to wake up early and the general ‘I don’t want to go to school thing’, but by the time the car hit school, something had happened on the ride that made you smile…and it was all good.

I’m reading a wonderful book currently, The Tender Bar, and it reminds me of Jim Collins Bar. Meeting Jim Collins and spending 6 nights a week from 1971 to 1974, while in college, certainly speaks to feeling included.  This was a tight group…7 stools, 3 tables, 4 chairs per table. You had to be told about it, no signs, so it was an invitation in a way. It was in a part of town where you felt like maybe ‘I don’t belong here’, but then you’re in Jim Collins Bar and you feel right where you belong.  The location and design of the bar, intentional at the core, spoke to that welcome we are talking about.”

I’m interviewing Tom because I find him to be the master of welcome and connection, but wondered if he could tell me about someone he finds to be incredibly welcoming and why?  Tom shot out immediately:  “Kristen Russel, owner of the Sentient Bean (http://www.sentientbean.com/about). She has created a place that is all about welcome.

Kristen and Tom

Kristen and Tom

She lives two doors down and her house is always open to people as well. She is very clear that it needs to be a place that any and everybody can come. It’s a conscious decision she has made. At her home, they offer Friday Social Hours on Friday afternoon, with a simple invitation: Brussel’s 5:30pm. Informal, 5 to 25 people, eat and drink…it’s a casual way to kick off the weekend, but I also feel like it carries a profoundness to it.  She organizes the Forsythe Farmers Market in Forsythe Park across the street. On the corner of Bull St and Park Ave, Kristen has created an intentional and active welcome with the Bean, the Market and her home.”

Forsythe Farmer's Market

Forsythe Farmer’s Market

When asked about a time when he felt a strong sense of local agency, Tom replied: “When the local public school system wanted to close the school my kids went to, we formed a group called Parent Advocates For Charles Ellis (PACE). We organized, lobbied the school board, reached out to journalists, held public meetings, used chart paper on the walls to use visuals, we had people call all their friends who worked media to call the Board of Education’s public information officer…with the idea that they would create some heat. If we could stop them from closing the school, a new school board would be elected, and once elected, they could then more easily change course. Good old fashioned persistent-guerilla organizing and getting things to turn out the way you want them to turn out.”

Next we ventured into a more introspective place, wondering what goes on internally for Tom when meeting a new person or new group of people: “I hope that curiosity is present. Openness. I hope I’ve intentionally gotten better at staying open and not be too quick to assume and judge. I’ve worked on that…and I’m probably pretty good at that at this point. I’m interested in seeing interesting combinations of people. There was a picture of people on the subway in New York recently, two people in full Indian regalia, next to all these New Yorkers…what a great representation of the New York vibe…a wild juxtaposition of different people in close proximity with one another…and for whatever level of engagement, seeming to get along just fine.”

Sorry Tom...had to do it!

Sorry Tom…had to do it!

And finally, I asked Tom about a time/place when he feels especially at his best, when he truly can ‘be the change’…

 “I think I’m pretty good with connecting people who have lived in Savannah with new residents to Savannah. I’m asked by people to sit with ‘a friend to learn about who they are and connect them to people or groups that they may jive with’.   The other thing I’m intentional about, is connecting people intergenerationally. The Savannah Rocks project is about this. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/465286180185853/). The idea is to connect people who were playing music locally in the 60 and 70s with people in their 20’s and 30’s playing music now in Savannah.”  

In closing, Tom shares a notion permeating his mind, heart and soul moving forward:  “I do believe that here in Savannah we are gradually beginning to ask a fundamental question: Do we want to think of ourselves as the Hostess City or do we want to think of ourselves as a Beloved Community. If we are a hostess city, we mostly think about how we treat those who are participating in the money economy, primarily in the tourism industry. If we think of a beloved community, it has a lot more to do about how we treat each other and welcome each other into one another’s lives and how we choose to take action with and on behalf of each other.”  

 

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Putting Down Roots

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!

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The Magician

I’d like to introduce you to a dear friend, Sheldon Schwitek. I met Sheldon in 2010, while attending the Toronto Summer Institute. Since then, a friendship has evolved into a caring, compassionate and supportive relationship. When Linda and I decided to shift our focus a bit to meeting with folks we find to be extraordinarily welcoming people, folks who seems to naturally understand elements of human connection, Sheldon’s name popped into my head clearly. I managed to spend some time with Sheldon this year at that same Institute, meandering through stories and shared experiences around this idea of belonging.

Sheldon...

Sheldon…

I wondered with Sheldon about a time when he felt like he had a sense of belonging, perhaps for the first time in his life, and what that meant to him. Sheldon rattled off two instances, “The first time I remember was when I met my friend Jake, who was really into the punk scene in Winnipeg and I went to a show she played at…I was 19 years old. I felt like a part of the group. The people in this scene were a sort of band of misfits, people who experienced not belonging in their lives. Everyone was different, which really meant that everyone was the same. The second time for me…when I attended the Toronto Summer Institute for the first time in 1992; I walked into welcome. I wanted to help immediately, the space elicited an immediate comfortableness, an immediate sense of ‘this is good’.”

After spending some time around this feeling, we looked into sharing about a particular person who Sheldon considers the most welcoming he has known…”Marsha Forrest. She was incredibly open to whomever came into her life. Gracious, kind, funny. As I got to know her, her welcome became deeper as I grew to understand her vulnerability and her ability to be curious about things. She had a way to get deeper into yourself and the answering of the question brought about a better understanding about yourself.”

When asked about a time where something ignited a sense of agency, a time where he could truly make a difference, Sheldon lit up and said “I was attending a Kalamazoo Bee Club meeting, along with my friend Rich. On our way in, Rich locked his keys in his car. AAA didn’t come for about 45 minutes, so I had to facilitate the meeting alone. I ended up leading a Q & A with this group, and it went really well. This was a moment when I decided to really immerse myself in this group and be involved in a bigger way. I negotiated my way onto the board and took on a strong leadership role. I became the Secretary quickly and found myself doing a good amount of facilitation to get the board, which had been stuck for quite some time, moving forward in a positive way. I tried to bring people’s gifts forward as a way of moving the board forward.”
When meeting new people, Sheldon (to my surprise) shared, “Many people don’t know this about me, but I’m incredibly nervous and shy when I meet new people. I’m really interested about people and connecting with people, but the initial meeting is frightening. Is this person judging me? Is it positive? Will I make a fool of myself? I think this comes from being mindful that I don’t like knowing that people may not like me. These are all present for me…I’m getting good at hiding it. I didn’t acknowledge it for the longest time, and it got in the way of being able to start relationships. I’ve evolved into either moving forward in spite of the anxiety, or right along with it. You have no understanding about who a person is at first, so there is a natural tension…for me noticing the tension is paramount in being able to get beyond the fear and truly connect…and I do seek deep connection.”

I was curious about when Sheldon truly comes alive…times when he truly feels like he is making a contribution…”My own family history was contentious at times. Judgment circled my relationship between my step father all growing up. With my wife, Joan, my children and grandchild, I am trying to be the type of human being that I wished I had been raised as by my parents. I see my daughter raising my grandson and see all these wonderful strategies of parenting she uses. Joan is wonderful at teaching me how to be a supportive parent. I feel I best contribute in a one on one relationship with people. I’m intentional with the type of support I provide within a relationship. My friend Matt taught me what it means to provide the types of support needed in a relationship. I feel like I’m good at being supportive. What do I need to do to support someone? This question has become my driving question…the foundation of my ethos. The other place I feel contribution is when I’m teaching about the Culture of Gentleness. If I can help change one person’s view, then I feel a sense of accomplishment…a sense of contribution. Because that person will then go out an be gentle with and interface with the world around them in the manner with which I believe to be the right way.”

So why is the title of this post “The Magician”? It’s simple…I had the opportunity to sit in Sheldon’s circle of support for a visioning he walked through in 2013. The resounding culmination of gifts Sheldon possesses ended up producing one word…magician. Sheldon creates welcome in the spur of the moment, crafting a sense of warmth and openness for all people in the room, no matter how long he has to prepare. With the wave of his invisible wand, his quick ‘Sheldon wink’, a brilliant smile and his all too recognizable guffaw…Sheldon magically welcomes you into his heart.

Thanks for that my friend…

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A Welcome That Fits

There are times in anybody’s life, I suspect, when circumstances could lead to feelings of exclusion or isolation. Birthday parties for friends’ children if you don’t have children of your own, boozy nights out if you are teetotal, expensive stag parties if you are totally skint… Right now, for me, it is any social gathering happening after about 8.30pm. My son has been going through a 5am wake-up time for a month or so now and by the evening I am pretty much broken. I have had to cancel or pull out of numerous arrangements and I can’t remember what it’s like to go out to the pub with friends.

Recently I had a lovely plan to have some friends from my village round to my house to Drink Wine and Chat. As the date approached, I knew I had to retract my offer to be the host, since there was a real risk I would have fallen asleep whilst refilling someone’s wine glass! Stephie, one of the friends who were meant to be coming, immediately offered to host and said I could come along if I had the energy, for just however long I wanted.

As it turned out, I was indeed too shattered to make it along to Stephie’s. I went to bed early, with a bit of a frustrated stomp, wishing I was trundling down the road with a bottle of wine in hand. I sent a message to Stephie the next morning, apologising once more and joking that I should start planning more breakfast get-togethers since that’s the only time I have any energy.

Well, within the hour Stephie had texted me to ask if I was free on Friday morning to get together with our baby boys. Some might have given up on me, or just thought we could meet up when things settled down for me a bit. But Stephie empathised with my early-rising, and figured out a way to make it work for me.

It turned out that Friday lunchtime worked best for both of us, so Fin and I merrily trundled down the road, a small box of Greek salad in hand. Stephie really knows how to do a welcome. She had laid out all these delightful bowls of healthy, delicious treats that would suit two babies and their mums. We spent the whole afternoon together: playing under the trees in her garden; reading story books in the living room; drinking tea; eating chocolate eclairs. We had long enough that we could actually have proper conversations despite the inevitable fragmentation of topics caused by the cheerful interruptions of busy little boys. The boys had never played just the two of them before, and my goodness did they hit it off!

I returned home feeling welcomed, energised, supported and very grateful. When things get a bit overwhelming, or we are just really, really tired, we don’t always want to be left in peace until things get easier. In fact, that is often exactly when we need a friend who will work around us and fit us into their lives. I am lucky that I have many such accommodating friends, and a hugely welcome addition to that circle is Stephie.
Thank you Stephie! Next lunch date is at ours!

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The Art of Welcoming

This week I’m linking in a TED Talk about the question which stands as the foundation for our learning here on Come In From The Cold:  How do we truly welcome people?  Well, Jan Gunnarsson gives his answer brilliantly in this short talk. He calls it Hostmanship, the art of making people feel welcome. Jan says “we must welcome ourselves, before we can welcome others,” something I have pondered for years…we need to be right for ourselves, if we are to be right for others.  Once we do this, and we ‘make the right choice’ every morning when we rise, we can truly be hosts to everyone we find ourselves around…every day of our lives and welcome, welcome, welcome.  I welcome you to give yourself 8 minutes…it will be time well spent 🙂  Sending my gratitude to you all…

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