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.
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…