Tag Archives: Invitation

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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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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More Than Books (and books are pretty fantastic)

Yesterday I had a bit of a tough morning with my poor wee teething son. In the afternoon, things improved and in order to keep doing fun, distracting things I took him along to our library. Fin goes to the library several times a week, with me and with his grandparents when they look after him. He goes to their free Bookbug sessions to sing nursery rhymes and hear stories. He goes to pull books off the shelves, drag toys around the floor, gaze unflinchingly at other library-users and generally act like he owns the place!

Well, yesterday we arrived and a large group of people were sitting around a table with cakes and other treats spread before them, balloon garlands overhead, and a celebratory atmosphere all around the room. I was immediately offered a (much needed) cup of tea, and told that one of the staff were leaving to work in another library and that this was her send-off.

I couldn’t really sit down to join in with the party properly, but was offered cake (more than once) and Fin and I were made to feel very welcome as we trundled around the children’s books section.  Several of the party said hello to Fin and asked how old he was, did he like reading etc. The two librarians on duty know Fin by name and of course I filled up with pride when they told the party how well-behaved he is every time he comes in and how much he likes his books.

Compliments for my son aside, this little outing just felt great. As we left the library I reflected on how some of those librarians will probably still know Fin in ten years time. How lovely to have these key community figures know our family. How safe it feels that there are people who care about him all around the village. Libraries are often community spaces which offer so much more than books for loan. Ours, especially considering it’s tiny scale (it is one room in a wee portocabin) is remarkable. They host all kinds of community activities aimed at all ages, and whenever we happen upon a session we feel welcomed at the edges, whether or not it is something suitable for us to join in with or not. I don’t know if it is training or luck, but every one of the team in our library is welcoming and warm, and what a difference it makes.

Yesterday I needed Fin to be distracted in a happy place, and I think I needed someone to do something kind for me like make me a cup of tea! Ratho library staff, thank you for everything you do. And Lindsey, good luck in your new job!

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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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Gifts of the Frisbee

Today our good friend Peter Leidy contributes to Come In From The Cold as a guest blogger!!!  Enjoy!!!

My wife, Betsy, and I are on the plane home after a lovely time in Puerto Vallarta.  We like to stay in the old part of the city, miles away from the all-inclusive resorts, strolling the town and swimming in Banderas Bay.  We love the colorful mix of locals and tourists (mostly Mexicans from Guadalajara and Canadian/US visitors.)  Ahh, the days on Los Muertos beach.

Peter and Betsy

Peter and Betsy

I had brought my Frisbee with the hope of finding willing players, but so far, no luck.  Continue reading

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