OMM – Your Soul and Money

I mentioned the book The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist in my last post, Sometimes Asking is Giving. As Ms. Twist explains, “What’s poor is [people’s] circumstances, not them, and the unlocking of a vehicle to change circumstances is a gift; the radical truth about money and life is sufficiency. If you clear away the mindset of scarcity, you will find the surprising truth of enough. When we recognize enough, when we have more than enough, that excess, that’s for others.”

I shared a quote about one’s attitude two weeks ago, and this is related. It’s a mindset shift, from scarcity to abundance. It changes everything in how we approach life, ourselves, and others. When you realize you have enough, that you are enough, you can give of yourself more. Does anyone else remember Sark? This particular quote about Enough is from her book Inspiration Sandwich, which was also the genesis of much hilarity about the complete and utter dump in the deep woods of Maine that my friend Jen and I lived in one summer, which we affectionately called the Magic Cottage thanks to Sark. It was magical all right, hornets and mice living in the walls and all. But that’s a story for another time.

“There is a distinction between sufficiency and true abundance; if you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t need, it frees up oceans of energy that’s all tied up in that chase to pay attention to what you already have. When you nourish and share it, you make a difference with what you have and it expands. What you appreciate, appreciates.”

Lynne Twist

Deep breath.

You will be alright.

This has been another Oxygen Mask Moment.

Sometimes Asking is Giving

The other day I was paddle boarding with a friend on a particularly hot and blustery day, stuck on my knees because the wind and chop were so strong that I risked tumbling into the lake if I stood up. After 20 minutes paddling into the wind, I looked up only to realize that I was a few feet further out from shore but still parallel with the dock. So much effort, so little progress, and, honestly, that relentless wind made me feel vulnerable and exposed even though I could have just let it blow me back to shore and call it a day.

As I dug my paddle deeper into the water to renew my effort to gain some forward momentum, it made me think about the extraordinary headwinds indigenous Guatemalan women deal with every day, and what it would be like to be stuck right where you are from the moment you are born, conscripted to a life of poverty, limited agency, and lack of opportunity. Young women in rural Guatemala face quadruple discrimination from the day they arrive on this Earth: they are poor, they are Mayan, they live in a rural area, and they are female. The MAIA Impact School works to change that by connecting the latent talent that exists in rural Guatemala but has been overlooked for generations with opportunity, starting with access to robust education through high school and aiming for university studies and access to formal work opportunities (as opposed to remaining in the informal economy, which is much more common, precarious, and poorly paid).

Each of MAIA’s Girl Pioneers (or GP’s, so called because they are pioneering a completely new path for themselves, their families, and their communities) trajectories has been astonishing. Though the wind remains incessant, there’s a flotilla of support, guidance, and information available to each of them about how to improve one’s technique, navigate challenges, find balance, and move forward.

In MAIA’s first class of high school graduates, a GP won a 4-year scholarship to college in the United States through She Can, an organization that builds female leadership in post-conflict countries. There are still so many hurdles for her to leap over and hoops to jump through before this opportunity becomes a reality, including the SATs, the bane of most high schoolers’ existences. Imagine being the first person in your family to go to high school, let alone college, and trying to take the SAT not in your first language, nor your second language, but your third language. More headwinds.

Because the US college process is so unique and challenging, with the SATs in one’s third language adding an extra twist, MAIA’s US Executive Director asked the Board if anyone knew someone who provides one-on-one SAT tutoring. I texted my neighbor, who is a college counselor, and he recommended Summit Educational Group. I googled them and cold called them, stumbling over my words as I tried to explain what MAIA is and does succinctly and clearly, who the GPs are, what the need was, all the while dreading the eventual question of cost. I asked not knowing what to expect and feeling like I was asking a lot. I was glad to be on the phone when I said the words “pro bono” because my face burned bright red and my armpits got sweaty. The gall of calling a complete stranger and asking for a favor – and then asking for it for free! Completely brazen.

But then, incredibly, they said YES. Yes, we will offer 22 hours of our time free of charge to provide the tools and resources this extraordinary young woman needs to continue along her path. That yes made my heart sing, astonished that this might actually happen and truly touched to experience the goodness, kindness, and generosity of other humans.

Several weeks ago, two MAIA staff visited the US for a conference. While they were here, we thought it would be good to meet and thank the Summit Education team in person. At our meeting we were able to give them a little more context about MAIA, rural Guatemala, and the GPs. It was the appropriate, polite thing to do in thanks to an organization that gave so selflessly on our student’s behalf.

But the part that struck and surprised me most that has stuck with me was how powerfully resonant and moving this connection to Guatemala was for them. Though they had no prior connection to MAIA or to Guatemala, while I was busy sweating through my shirt feeling awkward and queasy about my bold ask, they weren’t asking themselves if at all, only how. In fact, the response was more like:

“We don’t often get the chance to help a student like this.”

“This whole experience has been the highlight of my time here at Summit.”

It turns out that my ask was a give. Your read that right. By asking, I gave the gift of meaning, joy, and connection. By connecting, we build bridges and forge deeper understanding, expanding our own world and worldview. The wind may not die down, but if we work together we all make more forward progress.

Asking for help is hard. It’s challenging to separate a need from feeling needy. I find it easier to ask on behalf of someone else, certainly on behalf of a cause that’s bigger than me, but it’s still hard. It strikes me now that while it is so hard to ask for assistance in so many aspects of life, sometimes – often? – the asking creates an opportunity to give that is meaningful to the giver. As Lynne Twist writes in her book The Soul of Money, “this unlocking of a vehicle to change circumstances is a gift.” It’s a remarkable, empowering twist and the ultimate oxygen mask moment.

OMM – Find Your Sanctuary

I discovered in my late teens what it means to find sanctuary. Though the word is often associated with a church, human constructs never stirred my soul or provided room for quiet contemplation in the same way that a peaceful wood, a calm lake, or a mountaintop (as long as there are not a lot of other people there) do. The combination of the effort (and endorphins) that hiking engenders plus beautiful surroundings and time for quiet contemplation has always been my favorite refuge, affording me the best opportunity to reflect and re-center.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Henry David thoreau

I read that Thoreau quote for the first time in the early 1990s while sitting on the side of a mountain somewhere in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness and it has stuck with me ever since.

After years of practice I have learned (okay, am learning) to quiet the noise and find my sanctuary amidst the hustle and bustle of suburban family life. Putting your own oxygen mask on is about finding refuge and peace within. It’s been a nearly lifelong practice for me. Get outside today, breathe some fresh air, and find your way toward your own calm and sanctuary.

“All of our problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise pascal

This has been another edition of Oxygen Mask Moments by Meg

For more musings, check out Finding Sanctuary.

Breathe.

You will be alright.

It’s a Wonderful Thing, A Mother

A print of James McNeil Whistler’s Mother hung on the wall of my childhood home for as long as I can remember. I always found her kind of creepy, to be honest, and the poem by Baroness Von Hutton affixed below it within the frame always felt so dark.

It's a wonderful thing, a mother;
other folks can love you, 
but only your mother understands.
She works for you,
looks after you,
loves you,
forgives you anything you may do,
understands you, and then the
only thing bad she ever does to you
is to die and leave you.

- Baroness Von Hutton

Of course since those days as a little girl staring up at this portrait and trying to understand it (and still trying to understand why it hung in the bathroom of all places), I have become an adult, and a mother, and my mother’s caregiver.

It’s been one helluva year for me and my mom. We have walked the line so many times between life and death. And she just keeps coming back dancing and laughing. Just this week she was hospitalized again. I found myself racing to her side, grateful to be freshly vaccinated but afraid I had missed my chance to be with her while she was still alive after over a year of distanced visits and screens between us. And, you know what? Even though there is only one way for this story to end, even though I have already lost so much of her to Alzheimer’s, the grief that overcomes me at intervals when I face the prospect of losing her remains immense. The words of Baroness Von Hutton resonate more clearly by the day.

My mom (and her sisters) are my guiding lights. I have noticed especially over the past year of isolation and quiet that my most profound and impassioned writing tends to be reflections on my relationship with these women. A Tribute to My Biggest Fan, Nancy Waddell, Practically Perfect in Every Way, Clips

I think about my mom and her two sisters (“Sisters, sisters, there were never more devoted sisters” is the Irving Berlin song that accompanies my memory of the three sisters together, they dancing to the beat and laughing) as I make my way through this world. And I try to channel Nancy and Ellen’s wisdom as I care for my mom.

I have begun to recognize more fully how these women were my champions throughout my entire life; how they showed me by their example what it is to be a strong, courageous, compassionate and caring person; how they showed up over and over again at ballet performances and soccer games, at Thanksgiving dinners and music recitals, at the hospital the day my kids were born. As I wrestle with the phone calls and texts and times together that I miss, though they are gone (or gone in most ways, in my mom’s case), they are always with me. They are a part of me.

I’ve got all of this on my mind, swirling in these emotional crescendos and troughs, when the MAIA Impact School (which, if you don’t remember, is what inspired me to find my voice and share it by starting this blog) announced it’s Nim Mama (“Great Mother” in the Katchiquel language of Guatemala) scholarship. The concept is centered on honoring our mothers and the collective strength, beauty, and transformative power of mothers the world over by investing in the education of an indigenous Guatemalan girl. The images of these pioneering, brave girls with their mothers at their side brought me to bellyaching tears. In these images I could see my mom and my aunts standing beside me, or pushing from behind me, saying, “Go. Be brave. Do great things.”

This campaign renewed the call of these female pillars of my life to channel their strength and rise up to be the courageous, bold, passionate, brave woman they showed me how to be. I am living their values and honoring their legacy by returning the devotion my mom showed to me in my caregiving for her and passing the gift of their strength and love onto my children, both my daughter and my son.

This Mother’s Day, I will ACT for change in their names. I am investing $3,000 in MAIA’s Nim Mama Scholarship Fund, $1,000 each in honor of Ellen, Nancy, and Beth, the fiery, loving, devoted, caring, amazing women who paved the way for me. I can’t think of a better way to honor them than to live their values by working to create a more equitable and just world and launching the next generation of Girl Pioneers to pursue their dreams.

Join me April 29 for the launch event to learn more. Find your voice! Empower another to find hers!

Life is short. We don’t know when our time will come. Make – and be – the change you want to see in the world. Now.

Go out there and get after it!

Full Circle

A year ago today, I had a regularly scheduled quarterly appointment with my Rheumatologist. I knew enough about the “novel coronavirus” to know that being near other people was potentially a risk. We knew by then, also, that the virus was already lurking nearby because our local middle school had been shut for cleaning over the weekend due to a confirmed case. But I was still holding out hope that our family could sneak in a long-planned vacation to San Diego on March 18.

My doctor’s office is located within a large hospital, which was not exactly where I wanted to be at that moment in time. When I arrived, I mentally plotted the best course from my car to the doctor’s office that would ensure I minimized contact with others. I parked on the street instead of in the hospital garage and MacGyver’ed my way through back stairwells and infrequently used hallways, using only my elbows to open doors and letting them slam shut. I was very proud of my stealth, my well-honed survival skills (also known as being an anxious person who perpetually prepares for any eventuality) finally coming in handy.

When I opened the doctor’s office door, a woman was standing at the check-in counter speaking with the receptionist. Two others sat in the waiting room. My evasive maneuvers appeared to be for naught. Then I heard the words “just back from Italy” and nearly exploded. Was this virus really something I needed to worry about or was the news making an exaggeration of things? I paced, refusing to sit on potentially contaminated seats or to touch anything, and waited impatiently for my turn.

It’s still hard to believe that I walked into that office telling myself that I was probably overreacting and that, sure, caution was prudent but let’s not be hysterical. I had a hunch that getting on a plane and going on a cruise were becoming more unlikely by the minute, but it goes to show the power of – what? Denial? Incredulity? The sheer impossibility of what was about to happen? that I doubted the information in front of me – in front of all of us – to that point.

My doctor told me explicitly: no commercial airlines, definitely no cruises, and stay away from crowds. Because of my immuno-suppressed state I did, in fact, fall into a higher risk group. I left dazed – usually reality doesn’t match my over-active imagination. This time I underestimated reality. I felt suddenly quite mortal and very vulnerable. And no one really seemed to know what to do. We had information, but the idea of quarantine and social distance seemed drastic and irrational. People in authority – from the government and the CDC to school departments, business leaders, and medical facilities – kept referencing other people in authority in this bizarre hamster wheel of deer-in-headlights inaction.

On my way home from the doctor, I stopped to see my mom for what I knew would officially be the last time for a while (you know, a couple of weeks – ha!). It felt like a risk – was I bringing something in or taking something home unknowingly? – and I regretted going almost immediately. That afternoon I stood apart from everyone when I picked my daughter up from school, waving to my friends from a safe distance, a little quiver to my lip. My neighbors dropped of N95 masks on my front porch. We debated whether or not our son should perform in his band concert. It seemed insane to cave into irrational fear. But when you can’t see what you fear, what is rational anymore?

March 11, 2020, my husband started working from home. He used to take the train to work every day. On his last commute home another passenger coughed the whole way. We couldn’t figure how me standing away from a crowd at school dismissal was going to help much if he was being coughed on to and from work every day. So he stayed home. And that was just the beginning…

THIS YEAR on March 11 I will get my first dose of COVID vaccine. I am excited that this moment is here – I can taste freedom and some semblance of sure footing again. The mask mandates made a huge difference, as has everything we have learned about the coronavirus and how to treat it and who it affects.

But I am also nervous for all the regular reasons an anxious person would be nervous – unknowns and straying from the norm always provoke anxiety. The norm has become staying home and staying apart, keeping this virus as far away as I possibly can. It’s odd to go out and actively seek it (I do know it’s not a live virus and the vaccines are thoroughly vetted – and I WILL get it, absolutely. I’m just being honest – life is full of both/and situations and this is one. I am excited and I am nervous).

Photo by Ju00c9SHOOTS on Pexels.com

The past year has required serious mental gymnastics. Back-bending our way back to the old normal will be an adjustment too. For me, anyway. To mentally survive this period of extreme isolation required adjusting my threshold for patience and accepting a version of life that was smaller and more insular than I would choose. I took a big step back from my regularly scheduled programming. A friend observed when the lockdowns first started that I was a social butterfly who got her wings clipped. I tried not to dwell on it too much, and to adjust. I just kept going the best I could. And I did. We did.

As the switch flips and we head in the other direction, this March 11 may be the beginning of something new – something normal. I am tempering my expectations and won’t celebrate too soon, but I do have this hopeful sensation bubbling up inside me. Dare I dream of being close to other people again? Hugging my mom? Sending my kids to school full-time and to camp this summer?

It’s a dream right now, but it’s a dream fueled by real, actionable progress not just wishful thinking. I am starting to think that, yes, in fact, we will be alright.

Stay the course. Stay well. We got this.

Hope employs positive action. It is actively moving toward a positive outcome.

Wishing is passive – a wait and see approach. That’s the stuff of fairytales!

– Nicole Seawell @SailorsSweetLife (dot com)

Finding Sanctuary

For years after having kids and while taking care of my mom, I had to modify what I thought my life was supposed to be to accommodate what it actually was. I spent far too long trying to shove the round peg that is me into the square hole that was my expectations of myself. Life intervened. Lessons were learned (painfully).

Eventually I let go of some things and I adapted. I left the working world and focused more on my family and my health. It was disorienting and I was consumed by guilt and grief because I wasn’t living the identity I had constructed for myself of being a “working mom.” A paycheck validated my worth and provided confirmation that I was contributing substantively to the world, as sad as that is to acknowledge. Without it, and without a title, I felt diminished and like my tether to and meaning in the broader world had shrunk. My life was fully in the service of others, consumed with sports schedules and camp sign ups, meal planning and doctors appointments. I craved purpose and passion. I got dirty diapers and dishes.

All moms are working moms.

a dear friend pulling me out of the abyss

I couldn’t accept for a while that this was a point in time, a temporary passage and where I needed to be for then, but not forever. I felt like I couldn’t hack it (and of course I assumed as I looked around that everyone else could and was doing “it” better than I was). What was “it,” you might ask? I am not even sure. Life? Work? Or, better, that most elusive work/life balance? My go-to mentality when I am up against a wall is that I must not be trying hard enough. But I couldn’t get out of my own way, and as most people eventually realize walls are pretty solid things. I remember reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and wanting to chuck it against the wall after the 13th page because what she prescribed was to sit with my discontent, essentially, and what I wanted was a to-do list to fix it.

When the pace of life and the noise in your head gets to be too much, where do you find sanctuary? For me, there’s nothing like the smell of warm pine needles on a forest floor, the lapping of lake water against an evergreen shoreline, a boulder-strewn mountain rising in the distance, the stillness of sitting quietly by a pond. No cellphones, no crowds, no distractions. With headspace I can reorient and find my center again.

But for the longest time when my kids were young, I couldn’t travel. The place I dreamed of, Mount Katahdin in Northern Maine, was simply too far away and my life was too busy and too consumed by caring for others for me to disappear into the wilderness. Eventually I would institute an annual pilgrimage to Katahdin, but what about all the time in between? I learned to seek elements of Maine closer to home, and to find stability and happiness within. This is what Pema Chodron teaches, but it took me a while to accept it. It’s still a work in progress. I still get wound up like a top and overwhelmed by life. I still am my own harshest critic. But I find my center by carving out time for exercise; laughing with good friends (always reliable for grounding); being curious and just saying yes! to something new sometimes; taking a walk in my suburban wilderness (often now with my dog); and delighting in the little things like a crisp blue sky, flowers, or a box of cookies arriving in the mail. These are highly recommended life hacks for moms and for everyone else who might feel like life is directing them versus the other way around.

Yesterday I was reminded, spectacularly, about the power of finding sanctuary, be that a mountain vista or a more traditional place of worship. At the end of a tour of historic properties in a small, central Massachusetts mill town, our tour guide invited us to see the interior of one of the local churches. As you might guess, I am more of a nature-than-built-environment-as-sanctuary kind of person, but I am also curious. We walked through a dark entry foyer, nothing of note. But as the door to the sanctuary opened, it was a like a curtain that had veiled and protected my heart through this long, challenging year of isolation, lowering expectations, and gracefully accepting our lot was swept aside. This sanctuary of towering ceilings, stained glass windows, and ornate carvings forced a long, deep inhale. This church, modest in presentation from the outside and unexpectedly, stunningly beautiful on the inside, restored part of me that I didn’t even know was missing. It jolted awake a part of my brain that I hadn’t quite even realized was dormant. It reminded me of all the beauty there is in the world, and that you often don’t have to go very far to find it. There are unexpected treasures everywhere, if we are willing to stretch ourselves, be open-minded, and pull open the door to see it.

The Parable of the Lemon Seed

If ever there was a time to make lemonade out of lemons, it is now.

But where to start? It’s small, simple acts that take the circumstances we are given and flip the expected outcome on its head. This is exactly the story of Keki and the Lemon Seed, a true, modern day parable. Never heard of it? That makes sense because it has never before been told. But here it is:

There once was a woman named Keki. She lived in Hawai’i, where her work required her to fly between the islands regularly (back in the day when that was possible). In those 20 minute puddle jumps the airlines attempted to quickly serve beverages between take off and landing. The cabin crew would roll their carts down the aisle passing out drinks in little plastic cups to each of the passengers and then hurriedly collecting them and any other trash before landing. This was true all day long, every day, on the little flights that hopped between each Hawai’ian island.

As a series of islands, Hawai’ians tend to be extra careful about their environmental impact. And, yet, this standard way of operating persisted. Keki typically just said no thank you to the cabin crew and brought her own, re-useable water bottle. But one day she forgot her water bottle and was incredibly thirsty so she resorted to the only option available: to take the airline plastic cup.

This bothered her – A LOT. As she sipped her airline water, she thought about what she could do to ameliorate the fate of the single-use plastic she was holding in her hand. She didn’t have a lot of time to think since it was such a short flight, but as the cabin crew came around to collect everyone’s trash, Keki held onto her cup and the lemon slice inside it. When she got home, Keki filled the plastic cup with soil and buried one of the lemon seeds deep within it. She then placed the little airline cup in a sunny window. Within days, a sprout had pushed through the soil, the budding of a lemon tree.

Keki’s was a simple gesture, and also an incredibly authentic and refreshing one. Keki repurposed a tiny plastic cup that would have gone straight to a landfill into something beautiful and alive. She didn’t exactly make lemonade out of lemons, but she did make lemons out of landfill.

Imagine if we all took stock of our daily impact on the Earth, as well as our connection to it, with the same consideration and consciousness. Imagine if we all went about our days intentionally, thoughtfully considering our choices and contemplating the way we live and act. Imagine if we weighed the impact of our actions on our global community as well as our local neighborhood. In the middle of a pandemic that has upended the world completely, if ever there were a time and a call to make lemonade out of our lemons, it is now.

For more on what we can do, the United Nations recently published a series of Sustainable Development Goals and monthly actions. That’s a great place to start.

As a reminder, I know I say this every time, but I can’t emphasize it enough. WE are the solution. At a time when nothing feels within our control and the problems seem extraordinarily large and insurmountable, we need to dig deep inside, pivot, and rise to the occasion. Small but measured steps – planting one little lemon seed at a time – is the way it is going to get done. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. We need to do better starting now – and we can.

Rebuilding in Times of Uncertainty

The only way to hear another’s story and to truly see their reality, is to be assured that our own stories have been heard, that we have been seen. Social isolation drives a stake deeper into the systemic social divisions that already exist between us, wedging ever wider the yawning gap between our reality and that of “others.”

Malcolm Jenkins Narrative

Months of coronavirus isolation have provided a stark window into how isolation affects an individual and a community. We are living what happens when people are cut-off and feel they have no control over their life: hopelessness prevails; children fall behind academically and emotionally; a scarcity mindset stokes protectionism and hoarding; anger and frustration simmer and then boil over.

Fear, powerlessness, and uncertainty have become unwelcome, familiar feelings. With the sand perpetually shifting beneath our feet, we find ourselves quagmired by the overwhelming tidal wave of disillusionment, division, and disenfranchisement. We can’t stay here. We need to take a deep breath, set our course, and keep moving forward so inertia and negativity don’t suck us in.

You might wonder where exactly we are supposed to move forward to, being in the middle of a pandemic and the wheels clearly coming off the cart and all? While everyone is focused on the loss of now, on this period of sacrifice and challenge, we have to constantly remind ourselves that this is a finite moment in time; that great opportunity comes from overcoming adversity; that history is full of stories of struggle, resilience, and hope.

There is SO MUCH WORK to be done to move our society toward being more whole and equitable. As a country reckoning with a heightened awareness of our divisions, how do we do better?

The way to begin to heal is to come together, solving the issues of isolation and racial division through deliberate, intentional connection and engagement. North Brookfield, a rural community of 4,800 in central Massachusetts, is spearheading a regional creative arts program – ROAR (Rural Opportunity through Art and Restoration) – to do just that.

The Brookfields region has been wrestling with its identity and isolation for twenty-five years. As with many rural communities nation-wide, un- or underemployment, intergenerational poverty, depression, and drug dependency have permeated the region. Small businesses that were the life-blood of small town centers were decimated as retail was sucked outward to major highways and big box shopping centers. Health care and social supports are difficult to access. Though Vibram continues to manufacture shoe soles locally, employment and advancement opportunities have declined. Isolation here has become status quo.

The Friends of the North Brookfield Town House (“Friends”) have worked for over a decade to preserve their community’s vacant town hall, an architectural masterpiece and once “the center of everything.” The deteriorating building’s location in a small, isolated community has meant that a traditional commercial use would be challenging, if not infeasible. Two years ago the Friends contacted Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF), a Boston-based preservation organization, to help them with the puzzle of how to sustainably occupy the building.

AHF collaborated as a thought-partner, helping the Friends to recognize that renovating the Town House could catalyze change in their community and throughout the region, but only if complemented by additional economic development efforts. AHF recommended repainting the building, a small, empowering act that proved transformative in garnering broader support. The repainted Town House caught the attention of many area residents and was the catalytic spark that ignited a partnership with local recording company Long View Entertainment. Long View worked with the Friends to envision the building as an art and music center for at-risk rural communities.

ROAR, an expansion of Long View’s award-winning after-school program, will partner with Boston’s Berklee College of Music to offer educational and cultural programming featuring music, writing, storytelling, audio and video production, art, and theater click here for program offerings). Creative commerce education will build life skills, foster change, and inject energy – and hope. The program, anchored in a centrally-located historic structure that is meaningful to the community, will address from the inside-out the impacts of social isolation that divide and perpetuate separateness. ROAR will also provide work experience for Berklee students, infusing artistic talent from beyond the region and tearing down the rural-urban divide.

How does this help to heal? Data shows that tight family and community social networks can shield people psychologically from the stresses of having lower incomes, lower educational levels, or generally stressful living conditions. Dr. Tony Iton, from the University of California Berkeley, found that the social vulnerability resulting from poor schools, housing, transportation, and lack of access to healthy foods creates incubators of chronic stress that reduce life expectancy by 15 to 20 years as compared to higher income, healthier environments.[1] While Iton’s research primarily focuses on the inner city, poor rural areas face similar issues and outcomes. Meanwhile, a January 2019 National Governors Association report showed that rural counties that are home to performing arts organizations experienced higher incomes, population growth, and greater well-being and social inclusion than rural counties that lack performing arts institutions.[2]

Arts programing aimed at connection and diversification addresses both the turmoil boiling in our streets and economic vitality in distressed regions. In fact, the 2019 Massachusetts Rural Development Policy Plan highlighted “encouraging dialog and partnership between towns and regions; forming strong partnerships with regional academic institutions; developing youth leadership programs; redeveloping and reusing vacant industrial sites; growing local jobs and leveraging local assets; devoting more money to education; developing tourism and hospitality services; and promoting racial diversity”[3] as best practice. ROAR is all of these things.

ROAR at the Town House is piloting a replicable model that can be applied in other communities, not only in the Brookfields’ region but across Massachusetts and the nation. According to the New England Foundation for the Arts, “The creative economy is a powerful engine of growth and community vitality. A thriving cultural sector leads to thriving communities.” Creating a regional hub at the North Brookfield Town House will address downtown economic depression as well as rural social isolation.

When the world stopped, the arts, in all its forms, entertained and comforted us. It broke the barriers of quarantine and isolation by drawing us together. Now more than ever we need to be brought together to tell our stories, to be heard and seen, and to listen and learn.

All photographs are by Jason Baker @ jasonbakerphotography/

Footnotes:

[1] Iton, Dr. Anthony. (November 4, 2016 You Tube). “Change the Odds for Health,” TedX San Francisco, https://youtu.be/0H6yte4RXx0.

[2] Rood, Sally for the National Governor’s Association. “Rural Prosperity through the Arts & Creative Sector: A Rural Action Guide for Governors and States.” January 2019.

[3] Rural Policy Advisory Commission. Rural Policy Plan. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. October 2019, pg. 22.

 

A Plea and a Prayer for the Voiceless and Vulnerable

Where do I even start? I am rendered speechless by some of what I see happening in the world right now. And not speechless in a good way.

I understand rationally that anger stems from fear, powerlessness, and uncertainty, which we have in spades currently. So I get to some degree that what we are seeing with regards to the virus, opening plans, and people flouting the very simple protocols for keeping everyone safe from wearing masks to maintaining their distance are symptomatic of that. I recently read an article from Psychology Today, in fact, entitled What Your Anger May Be Hiding that explains anger very rationally. Did you know that when someone is angry the brain releases a chemical that stimulates a numbing sensation while establishing a sense of security and control over a situation? I did not, but it explains so much.

I guess I thought and hoped we were more evolved than that and that we could recognize anger for what it is and modify our behavior. Clearly not. And that’s disappointing. Most disappointing of all is how there appears to be a cultural disregard for the most vulnerable people among us currently. If I hear one more time, “oh, yea, a lot of people have died but most of them were old” I am going to explode. WTF kind of attitude is that? Damn.

“What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.” from Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Anyway, I am rambling. I felt like I needed to acknowledge that because it’s been bugging me and making me sad. But I don’t want to focus on it. What I want to do is to say a prayer for the voiceless and vulnerable, for the elderly, our elders; for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia; for those in care homes; for those with other health vulnerabilities; for those in places like rural Guatemala and rural Madagascar and so many other places in the world (including the inner city and parts of rural America) that are disconnected from the regular news cycle so we don’t hear their plight – both because they don’t have a platform to tell it and because no one is listening. Amidst all the quiet of this time, it’s remarkable the cacophony we humans can stir up to distract ourselves and still not LISTEN.

I don’t want to dwell on this. I want to focus on the good stuff, the stories of hope and kindness where you would least expect to find them! It’s my whole mission here and really this is the stuff of grace and humanity that needs to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops!

In today’s episode, we have video footage of Girl Pioneers from the MAIA Impact School reporting from their homes in rural Guatemala on what life is like in quarantine for them, thanks to donated devices that have been distributed to the students and the MAIA Impact School’s on-going work to give these girls and their families a platform from which to be heard and seen.

You can read more about the students, their lives, and MAIA’s response to COVID @ https://www.maiaimpact.org/maias-response-covid19

More to come!

Each day is a blessing in whatever form it comes – don’t squander it!

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Indigenous Woman Poem

 

 

The Time of Quiet

I’ve gone quiet suddenly, here in the blogosphere anyway. It’s like I returned from a long trip and suddenly I was very, very tired. And I had endless mountains of laundry to do. Apparently our virtual world tour has come to an end. I just fizzled one day. For once, I let myself get lost in that with no apologies. If I can’t learn to be in the moment, in THIS moment, now; to face into the fire and not turn away to avoid it, now; to source my strength from within, now, then when will I ever?

It’s often said that it takes 66 days to create a new habit. Today is, in fact, day 66. What new habits have you made? Which will you keep going forward?

Me? I hope to hold onto this conscientious quiet because I cherish the simplicity and peace that comes with it. In my typical suburban existence, I crave calm and quiet, and now I see clearly that so much busyness is self-created. I do like to be busy, but there’s busy and then there’s manic. It’s really refreshing for life to be so plodding that my whirring around checking boxes off my never-ending to-do list eventually has to stop and for once I just sit down and think. Or breathe. Remember that one? I always forget. But now I’ve had 66 days of practice so who knows what the future holds?!? Have you ever seen the short Warren Buffet and Bill Gates clip Busy is the New Stupid? Well, there you are.

Breathe

I also hope some of my meal plan-ahead skills will endure (but mostly I really want take -out). And I imagine I will never stop washing my hands as well as I do now.  Remember that the “new normal” isn’t normal. And it isn’t forever, either, incidentally.

In The Time of Quiet

No one’s told the daffodils about the pause to Spring
And no one’s told the birds to roost and asked them not to sing
No one’s asked the lazy bee to cease his bumbling round
And no one’s stopped the bright green shoots emerging through the ground
No one’s told the sap to rest, deep within the wood
And stop the sleepy trees from waking, wreathed about in bud
No one’s told the sky to douse its brightest shades of blue
And stop the scudding clouds from puffing headlong into view
No one’s asked the lambs to still the springs beneath their feet,
To stop their rapid rush and quell each joyful bleat
No one’s told the stream to halt its gurgle or its flow
And warned the playful breezes, not to gust and blow
No one’s asked the raindrops not to fall upon the earth
And fail to quench the soil in the season of rebirth
No one’s locked the sun down, or dimmed the shimmer of the moon
And even in the darkest night, the stars are still immune
Remember what you value, remember who is dear
Close the doors to danger and keep your family near
In the quiet all around us take the time to sit and stare
And wonder at the glory unfurling everywhere
Look towards the future, after the ordeal
And keep faith in Mother Nature’s power & will to heal.

I have seen this beautiful poem attributed to Pablo Neruda, a Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet and diplomat. But a little hunt of the world wide web revealed that it was actually written by Philippa Atkin and posted on her blog March 27, 2020.

Pablo Neruda’s poem, also beautiful, is called Keeping Quiet. I am not exactly sure when it was written, but Neruda died in 1973 so we can be sure that he did not predict the internet age taking us over, our addiction to screens or busyness, and certainly not a global pandemic. It is also remarkably appropriate for today :

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.