Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reflections on my Week

What a week I had. The first half was a mess of obligations that I struggled to keep, only satisfying anyone in part. In the second half, I caught my wind. What pushed me over the edge? Four days of workshops and seminars. There was no time to keep up with my regular obligations. I couldn't just shut them all off for a few days, either. Two were "people obligations", opportunities to show that I care that would not come again. The third was a demanding customer with an urgent deadline of her own. So I rushed through the days, late from one appointment to another.

Then at the end of the final day I browse through my blackberry and find that a meeting was rescheduled for that very afternoon, and that I could make it. I cursed under my breath. After four days of obligations, I'd vowed to keep that day for me. I'd turned down two other meetings already, and my plan was to finish the afternoon at the fitness club. I found a compromise. I called my hubby and asked if we could skip our plans for dinner that night, if I might just go relax instead. I would go to the fitness club after work, and forego dinner out. His voice warmed over the cell phone, and he set me free from this final obligation. I warmly thanked him back.

I don't know what it was, but those few hours when I could dawdle and do what I want, transformed me. I relaxed completely. The effect carried well on through the next day and this. I hope I keep this lesson, that fitness is more than preventative maintenance. It can give me that very much needed mental break.

Now, about the wonderful course I attended. The facilitators Jim Beaubien & Karen Caesar of Hope Learning, took us along on a wonderful journey of discovery. They also took the time, in that room of forty people, to make me feel very special, telling me I have a talent for writing. I sense these are people worth hooking up with, that their passion for a building a better world one person at a time resonates with my own. How do we bring about change? Find those catalysts for change, those mavens, who influence maybe hundreds of other people. Jim and Karen are clearly mavens, experts in their field.

One of the subjects we talked about in the course was the influence of the generations. Jim argued convincingly that Obama is speaking directly to the Millenials. I've checked with my own children what they think of his message, and they brightened up immediately. "Does that mean he will stop the war in Afghanistan?" They are a funny generation, careful. I am earnestly warned of the dangers of aspartame. My daughter worries about the transportation infrastructure. What if it would fail? Our stores would be emptied instantly. She vows to grow vegetables next summer. She wants to learn to preserve the fruits of her labor. The loves the idea of seeds, a tiny investment that with the smallest amount of care, becomes a plant that renews year after year.

Who are the Millenials most like? Jim says that every fourth cycle, the characteristics repeat themselves. If so, my daughter and granddaughter would be most like my grandfather.

Thanks to the improvements in health care and natural longevity, my daughter has memories of her great-grandfather. She reflected the other day of one of the one letter he wrote to her. He urged her to get an education (his had been cut short by the depression) so that people wouldn't think she is a "dumb cluck". Grandpa regretted that he lacked that formal training. His letters represented hours of effort, as he struggled to write what showed so clearly in his living. Grandpa's heritage to us all was his integrity. The beetling brows and steely stare, I think, came from my grandma. Both my dad and my daughter have the scowl, rarely used but perfected. Maybe I have it too. Being on the inside, I can only guess about it's effectiveness from the reaction of the recipients on the rare times I've used it.

Anyways, grandpa had integrity. He gave of himself and did the right thing regardless of the personal cost. He kept his promises. For the sake of his family, he went off to the lumber camps when he was a young man. When he married, for the sake of his young family, he did not join the army. Where grandpa is different than me, my dad, and my daughter is that he wasn't wound so tight. He had an easyness about him, cheerfully working out his days. He had a simple solution to grandma's nagging; he turned down his hearing aid. He happily joined the boys in their annual moose hunt, but never managed to bag one himself. Rather there are pictures of him rocking on the rustic front porch in his plaid and flannel, playing at the great outdoorsman. He also told great truths through stories.

I once asked him what story he wished he had told, that no-one had time to hear? He told me the story of the invention of nylon thread, which he was there to see. The first synthetic fibers were smooth. They were smooth because the nozzles forming the fiber were smooth. It turns out that smooth thread doesn't stick very well. When you knit it or weave it, it swiftly unravels. It was a team of Canadians who found a way to change the nozzle so the thread came out rough instead. Now we had nylon thread that stuck. It was a great leap forward. Some Americans came up to take a look and asked a lot of questions. You can guess what came next.

I wish I could say I was a rapt audience, but I failed grandpa that time. It took all I had not to nod off. I could tell when grandpa's story tailed off that he was a little disappointed. But he did not say so out loud.

Anyways, that heritage of integrity has spanned the generations. Dad is a model and a leader of integrity most of all, and his example has marked my life. A most honorable demonstration was the way he cared for his second wife when she died of cancer. He watched over her and fiercly protected her, even when his own reserves were drained dry. He adopted her adult children as his own, and made sure they were taken care of. If we all knew that our partner would do the same, what a comfort that would be.

You know, now that I think of it, it's my granddaughter who most personifies grandpa's combination of integrity and easy grace. Her mother worries about so many things like aspartame and creepy strangers. My granddaughter cheerfuly negotiates all that while sharing with me her victories in negotiation. She has a large heart and freely shares it. In kindergarten, the parents of a new girl asked my granddaughter if they could meet her parents. They told my daughter they were so impressed how Naomi took in their daughter on her first day there, putting her arm around her and telling her they were going to have a great day. That little girl came home raving about how wonderful Naomi was.

Naomi is also successful negotiating the little things. Her mom packs nutritious snacks, no sugar. There's fruit and cheese and crackers. Naomi pointed out to her mom that she has an allowance that she can freely spend and how tempting it is to use it on the vending machines at school. She knew how much her mom hated those machines, as mom has no control over the quality or nutritional value of their contents. Naomi pointed out, wouldn't it be much better to buy organic chips from the store, than to waste her allowance on the vending machines? My daughter relented, and Naomi gave me a private high-five.

If a generation like my Naomi are primed to take care of our world, we have a very lucky planet.
I borrow the photo from the Breathless Moon -