Today a fellowship application asked me to write about a quirky memory that would teach them something about me. The prompt reminded me of this funny story about the World Trade Center. It seemed worthy of a share...
In 1995, I lived and worked at Green Chimneys Farm. At the time, the farm served as a residential treatment center for New York City's most abused kids. The animals had also been abused or wounded; they recovered together. The farm would schedule the release of a hawk or other recovered bird with the release day of a child. We would line up in the field and the child would release the bird and then hop in a car and head back towards New York City. Haunting!
During their treatment, we often brought the kids and some of the animals back into the city in our program "Farm on the Move!" This enabled our kids to teach others what they had learned and bring city folks in contact with animals. One day, we brought the farm to the plaza of the World Trade Center. Shirley, our beautiful scotch highland cow was getting a bit big for her mobile pen.
Shirley also had a spirit for adventure.
When I turned to check on the Chilly and Willy (the potbellied pigs), Shirley made a run for it. She bound through the plaza right during lunch hour. People could not believe their eyes. We ran after her, worried for her safety. All of a sudden, a man threw his briefcase to the side and wrangled Shirley to the ground. In his beautiful suit, with her under his arm, he brought her over and said, "I'm from Iowa and grew up on a cattle farm. Here's your cow."
This is the story I most like to remember about the World Trade Center.
Usually, I find myself grinding through job applications, dutifully listing my qualifications as accurately and passionately as possible. This morning, however, I had a different experience.
While editing my teaching statement for academic jobs, I noticed tears welling up in my eyes. In writing about my teaching approach, I began to reflect on all those who have taught me, all the great literature, and wisdom to which I have been exposed.
I do not know what I did to be born into a time, place, and family able to offer me time to read the classics and spend hundreds of hours with brilliant and compassionate minds. I had forgotten in my search for "what's next?" what an absolute privilege this has been.
I am preparing my syllabi now for several courses. A course at the University of Malta, SciencesPo (France), and one at Grinnell College. (Yes, I know three countries, lots of time on the road). In preparing to educate others, I can finally look back on who built me.
In some ways, I am a composite of all these people and institutions. True, I have my own opinions and my own philosophy about life which may differ from theirs at times, but I still stand on their shoulders. It seems important not to forget this. When writing job applications we have to shine the light on ourselves, when really in order to do so, I need to shine a light on the hundreds of people who made me, me.
If I win a position, "we" have really won it. Of course, there are limits. I'm probably not going to share my salary with them. But I do love them dearly.
The password for today is....
Each August, I volunteer at a bereavement camp called Circle of Fleur de Lis a free camp for girls 9-15 who have recently lost a parent. After the bugle blows, we slowly roll out of our platform tents and cabins, brush our teeth and then head to a grove where we start our day with a little reading. This morning ritual is called "Password" and has been a standard part of Fleur de Lis Camp since my grandmother attended in 1927. Below is the password I wrote for the last day of this year's Circle Camp, talking about how to hold on to memories of loved ones and our happy memories of our summer together. Hope it helps you with anyone, any place, or time you feel you have lost...
"Fleur de Lis Circle Camp 2016 has come to a close. Sometimes at the end of things we grasp for ways to hold on to the good feelings and to each other. We may look to photos or objects to help us hold on; our Circle Camp t-shirt, our messenger bag from sewing class, our bracelet from Arts & Crafts or a little rock we picked up along the road.
We often do the same when someone dies. We look to photos and objects to help keep them close. But the good news is, our loved ones like our camp memories are everywhere. They are carried to us through the sounds, smells and even tastes in our daily lives.
My friend Allison thinks of her Mom any time she smells the spice cardamon.
My friend Rebecca remembers dancing with her dad in the basement anytime she hears Michael Jackson's Thriller.
I think of camp and of you all any time I hear a screen door slam, feel the morning dew on my toes, or smell a musty old house.
Our job in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead is to be on watch for the little ways camp and memories of our loved ones will come say hello to us.
Maybe the sound of rustling leaves will remind you of yoga in the Sunken Garden or ome blueberry pancakes will remind you of our breakfasts together. Or, if you're like me, you might just find yourself humming verses of Boom Boom Ain't it Great to Be Crazy in between classes.
So don't worry if you do not have the perfect photo or a cool camp sweatshirt. Circle Camp and the friends you made will visit you throughout the year in hundreds of tiny ways. Be on watch!
The Password for today is: Everywhere."
While my work mostly focuses on big conflicts -- namely war -- I'm always eager to share what works for our personal conflicts. Suffering is suffering. Here's a little something that worked for me!
If you have ever searched for a job, house, tried to publish your book, tried to land an acting role or dated for an extended period of time you know what feels like an endless stream of what feels like rejection.
It's basically what feels like the Daily NO! Emails, phone calls etc. when they are nice tell you how talented you are but after careful consideration, you're not wanted.
In many cases, you just never hear back. The potential love interest, home buyer, employer just disappears. POOF!
It can feel like rejection and after several months it can feel like despair. "Just keep going!" friends and family will tell you. You hear them and then get a good night's sleep to muster the energy for another day of self-promotion.
Sales Begin with NO!
My father, a master of sales, always taught me that sales meetings begin with "no!" This works in business. You can speak to what's missing in the product or service. But this doesn't work so well when applying for grants or dating, for example. No means no. Or no means, "apply next year." Or simply just an invitation to walk away and don't come back.
It's not Rejection, it's No Fit
A recent PhD graduate looking to publish, teach and practice, I have had my own six months of no, no, no, no, no. Of course there have been some YESes in there, but sometimes the Nos just seem louder.
A survival strategy during this period, I decided to rename these kindly worded emails "No-fits" instead of "Rejections."
I don't really know if whatever organization that rejected me was what I really wanted anyway. Sure, egos want to be admired and chased by everyone. That doesn't mean these positions were a fit for either of us.
The other advantage of shrugging and just saying "No Fit" instead of "I've been Rejected" is that you cannot then spend the next hour beating up on yourself. Rejection thoughts lead us down the emotional scale...not up. You head towards depression not possibility when thinking about rejection.
By contrast, thinking about "No Fit" turns your attention towards what a "good fit" might be. It's a more solution oriented framing and one that honors the needs of both parties -- you and them!
Perhaps trying to get a job, partner or house that isn't ours is like the evil step-sisters trying to fit into Cinderella's shoe. In the original story, these sisters even cut off their toes to win the prince.
It honestly doesn't seem worth it. I suspect things would have worked out better for the sisters had they just shrugged and looked for the right fit.
It didn't occur to me until today that Groundhog Day -- in the Bill Murray film sense -- comes at the perfect time each year.
In the film, Murray keeps living the same day over and over until he learns his lessons about how to live a good life. The film is very Buddhist in message -- but packages the lesson far more comically than Buddhism usually does.
Groundhog day 4 weeks after New years resolutions!
I think the reminder of Bill Murray's repetitive day every February is perfect. We made our resolutions in January...maybe the same darn ones we made last year. In four weeks, we can see that we have likely -- in many cases -- gone back to our own habits.
There are areas of my life that just don't seem to change. Each year, I celebrate the progress and good abundance of the year prior, but some of those areas feel just like the darn movie.
Groundhog day is a Fierce day
For the brave, Groundhog Day can be as fierce a day as the Jewish Day of Atonement. It's the day when you take stock of what areas of your life seem like they are going no where. It might be in the area of finance, your body, relationships, work, your love life, etc.
I know, it hurts. It hurts me too...but I think it is a good day of reckoning. We're going to have to change...Bill Murray did. He couldn't out-think life to stop the endless repetition. He actually had to become a better person.
Yup. Sorry, we're going to have to shift. It feels uncomfortable -- the new way of being feels awkward at first. For me I think it's about vulnerability not actually doing more. Doing just gets me lots more of the same.
Stop Rearranging the furniture
Writer Anne Lamott tells fellow writers to go into that room that terrifies us...otherwise we'll spend our whole lives rearranging furniture in the rooms we already know. This is what Groundhog Day allows us to do.
I am wishing us all luck today as we consider where we continue to relive the same patterns and experiences.
May we all be brave enough to go through the new door and discover what's waiting for us...
I received an email this week announcing that the job opening I had hoped to fill in the fall had been closed until further notice. Probably budget considerations, etc.
Standing there reading the email on my cell phone, I wasn't sure if the message was good news or bad news.
I guess it's bad news, if that's the job I wanted for fall. Or maybe good news because it means something better is coming or that I can use the next few months to prepare for the re-opening.
Well, I decided, I might as well decide that the email is good news...
If I'm not sure what it means then might as well decide it's for the best.
This seemed like a good attitude to take for all emails.
Whatever it is, I've decided to take the attitude that it is good news.
There seems to be a split second between getting news and then deciding what it means. Since that little gap exists why not decide that it's all working in your favor.
Because either it is or by deciding that it is your mind will go to work at making this a win for you.
In this photo is "Fluff" (Mary) Capua and my mother.
Fluff died last week and now that she's gone I'm willing to share her. When she was alive, I almost wanted to keep her to myself.
That was a mistake though, because this woman ironically named "Fluff" had a love much bigger and fiercer than her little frame reveals in this photo. She had enough room to love us all.
She came into my life and my mom's life at a very challenging time. She made me feel loved, perfect, and brilliant no matter how twisted I felt inside. Never once did I feel wrong for not living like everyone else. It didn't matter that I lived in an apartment with a friend and not in a big house with lots of kids.
She was too busy giving and loving to judge. She gave in many old-timely ways.
She left us Italian food at our door, sent us cookies when we lived far away and has sent me birthday cards for over twenty years.
This year I received this birthday card a week after she lost consciousness.
Fluff wouldn't let a little thing like death get in the way of your birthday.
My birthday this year landed on the same day as the terror attacks in Paris. It was a hard birthday. I spent the day checking on friends in France and holding my breath for the hostages.
All I wanted to do was have a cup of coffee and some soup with Fluff that day. I didn't know she had already had a massive stroke.
She died in the best way. One stroke and then out. She lived right and died right. Rather than getting old in a way that required everyone to take care of her, she lived for taking care of others. She asked for so little and would flip over with glee when you had time for tea. I want to be like her. If I have the luxury to grow old, I want to be loving on everyone too. I know how good it felt to experience unconditional love.
This lovely photo is of Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C. taken from the Virginia side.
It's also the site of where two cars and I crushed each other yesterday.
Virginia has some lovely crosswalk right where bridge traffic meets the highway on the roundabout.
A man stopped for a bike.
I screeched to a halt.
The man behind me couldn't stop his car.
Three car crunch.
We're all ok, thank you.
The man behind me felt really bad. He waited patiently as I spent 1 hour talking with the insurance folks and trying to see if my headlights worked.
He was so apologetic. I said, "It's okay, I just really wanted to use my car tomorrow to deliver food to homeless people."
He said, "Ugh, now I feel really bad."
So, I invited him to come with me on Thanksgiving to serve the homeless, elderly, poor and sick.
He said, yes! I welcomed him to our home for dinner afterwards.
So we made a good thing out of an-almost devastating situation.
I think we're a little far out from being able to ask ISIS' help to tend to the refugees. Since they're fleeing in part from ISIS.
But, still there was something hopeful in this Thanksgiving story.
As a scholar of language and conflict, I pay close attention to story lines and make sure I don't fall into problematic ones.
So, I consciously chose to not play the angry victim at the scene of a crash. I chose, instead, to make a friend.
He wasn't really at fault. It was a terrible intersection. No one got crunched, just our cars.
I will carry a reminder of this day with me. I want to apply it on a larger scale though still unsure how to apply it to ISIS.
Unlike my new friend, I cannot invite ISIS to thanksgiving dinner for at least three reasons:
1) It's a felony,
2) They'd probably kill me, and
3) They'd likely be terrible company.
That said, at least on a smaller scale, we don't have to perpetuate hate and react with anger when we receive a relatively small bop on the head.
Sarah Federman, PhD
Enjoy these reflections on what life is teaching me.
My other blog Language of Conflict addresses the importance of word choice and narration in conflict.
Finish and Flourish supports writers struggling to complete projects.