I spent last week cleaning out the attic in my childhood home. This task had called me and pulled at me until I finally submitted, crouched down and opened up the archives of my life.
The "New Age" spiritual community often writes about the Akashic Records. They say these archives house a book on every soul -- all its lives past and present. We can know who we are and have been, they say, from these records.
While some say its possible to access this information from earth, I find old toys, college papers and long since extinguished Christmas candles far easier to grasp.
In the excavation process, one of the great treasures was a pile of poems and quotes that touched me.
I want to share one poem by Bill Holm...it seems fitting in light of fall and the events in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad and Mali.
"Above me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off
The Aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind.
All you succeed in doing
is making music,
of failure grown beautiful."
(August in Waterton)
A 80+ Year old Girl's Camp Cared for by Astonishing men
I wish everyone had a summer happy place. Or, any place in the world they could go and know they would be filled with such joy and good cheer they would mourn leaving and begin counting the days until their return weeks in advance.
Thanks to my great grandparents, I have this place. These ancestors, who I never met, sent my grandmother to an all girls camp in New Hampshire called Fleur de Lis.
When my grandmother had children of her own, she looked up the camp. It still existed so my Aunt attended and so did her daughter, my cousins and eventually me... I went for years and years and years. And so too have other generations of girls. Fleur de Lis sweeps us all up in friendship and love.
I still get to spend a week at camp each year at the end of the summer when Fleur de Lis converts into a bereavement camp for girls. It's called "Circle at Fleur de Lis."
While I could write pages about Fleur de Lis and Circle Camp, today, I really want to honor a family behind the scenes whose commitment to our precious little camp moves me.
I want to introduce you to the Whipples!
The Whipples lived behind camp. They own over a hundred acres all around the small girls camp and have been an incredible gift.
Henry Whipple started caring for the camp grounds as a teenager.
He was there when my grandmother went to camp in the late 1920s.
When I finally trotted off to camp with my little trunk in the 1980s, Henry was still there mowing the lawns and fixing hinges.
One of my last years at camp, I was elected Queen. One of the best parts was writing a speech to honor the shy and infinitely lovable Henry.
Eventually Henry died but left us a gift as precious as his contribution, his son Richard.
Richard also started caring for the camp as a teenager. What teenage boy in rural New Hampshire wouldn't relish the opportunity to take care of a girls camp?
Well Richard grew up, married and built a house behind the camp's senior field. The camp's extra food goes to his pigs and Richard spends his summer days caring for the camp in hundreds of ways.
Richard is as committed as Henry but 1/2 as shy. He talks to the girls and this summer even helped them build bird feeders.
I begged him for one, explaining that it would mean so much to have a little piece of him and his father in my home during the winter months.
It's now hung outside the little room where I'm writing this blog. While it's not squirrel proof, as you can see, nature seems to balance it out. The birds and animals take turns. It would not be in the Fleur de Lis spirit to exile the mammals.
Talking with Richard this summer anchored me.
He's a rural man who lives in a cottage he built with his own hands. He eats the pigs he raises and the eggs from his own farm.
He is present.
He knows the history of the land, too.
He can tell you about where the old blacksmith shop stood and the mills that made pails that sat behind today's archery field.
While Fleur de Lis is a girl's camp and has been from the start, the Whipples have been the warm fatherly and brotherly presence that have embraced these young women for decades.
These are men who love and support women in ways that are deeply masculine and strong.
I wish there were more people like them. I'm sure there are....we just need to keep looking and shine the light on them as often as we can.
I spend a good deal of my academic time considering how childhood trauma impacts the elderly. Child survivors of the Holocaust share with me their wartime stories as well as the decade upon decade of the aftermath. Many went on and lived full lives -- lives that never shook their past but expanded to something more.
These hundreds of hours with child survivors prepared me for my summer work this year. I spent time at Circle Camp at Fleur de Lis with an astonishing team of fellow counselors and over forty girls 9-15 who had lost a parent.
While death brought us together, I spent most of my time leading folks in silly songs, teaching the girls how to do contortions with a broom, and exploring with them the difference between fresh eggs from Richard's farm up the hill and the industrial eggs sent from Sysco.
I did have the great privilege of working with our social worker Ellen, spending a full day hearing the story of every girl at camp. During the "Grief Circle" the girls shared stories and pictures with the other girls in their bunk. They talked about how their parent died, who they lived with now and some of their on-going fears. Some didn't know, for example, what would happen if their remaining parent died; some had already gone into foster care or had been adopted. Many have had to change schools and leave their friends as a result. Death was only part of the loss.
Listening to them, I felt at home. That sounds odd perhaps. Maybe because people were being real; kids are SO real and when they talk about what matters to them, I cannot help but remember what matters to me.
I think one of the best things we can do for someone is to bare witness to her experience without trying to judge or change it. Instead of turning away from the sadness and trauma, we can just be there with them. Ask questions and help them elaborate and give words to some of their internal world.
They say that not feeling alone...being surrounded by others like them is one of the best parts of camp. I believe it.
I know from talking with survivors of trauma that these girls lives will be shaped in large ways by this experience. It's not something they will simply grieve for a year or so and then move on. With support, however, they can find others to step up and take on some of the parenting roles in their lives. They do not necessarily have to "grow up" so quickly because of this loss.
It may sound mystical or a bit etheric to say this -- in some way, I feel that the survivors were comforting these girls through me. They showed me how to just "be" with people -- it was too late to save them from the Holocaust just as it's too late to save these girls' parents. It's not too late, however, to be together. We shared a precious moment to together-- we lamented, celebrated and even enjoyed a little gloppy camp food.
After finishing the doctoral program, I turned to focus on all the projects and plans I had put on hold for three years (okay, five years). While exhilarating, that approach made me focus on what I did not yet accomplish versus what I had just accomplished and more generally, what I already have in my life.
To flip my focus, I threw on some shorts and grabbed a hose.
An over 90-degree day in Arlington VA, turned out to be the perfect day wash my car by hand -- something I had never done. I remember my driver's ed instructor in high school advising us all to do this for safety reasons. He said you'd learn the dimensions of your car in a different way and it would help with depth perception. I'll let you know...
As I spent time hosing and scrubbing, thinking my improved parallel parking skills that would ensure, I also thought about how much I love my little car and all the great things it allows me to do.
Granted, it's pretty easy to do this with a car this cute. It shines up so nicely -- it's like brushing teeth to reveal a beautiful smile.
Washing every inch also gave me a chance to think about how cool it is that someone took the time to figure out how to make the automobile. I became interested and fascinated by the engineering and the brilliance it took to put this impressive machine together.
Now, my friends in California in full drought might be saying "tsk, tsk" -- what a waste of water! Well, I'm not sure the very nice Mr. WASH down the street uses less water and I've only done this once in my life so I'm probably not wasting water. Plus, Californians, I love you, but it you don't start desalinating toute de suite, I'm just going to stop feeling sorry for you.
The other naysayers, knowing my dissertation topic (corporations complicit in the Holocaust), may be poo-pooing my VW, a German -- WWII complicit -- company. For the moment, to that I will only say that it gives me ample opportunity to consider the complexities of my topic. Driving around in a paradox forces better thinking.
The 10-Minute Thank You Project
This blog is not explicitly about California water problems or buying products from companies formerly complicit in genocide (both topics I can talk about for hours), but rather the beauty of just shining up something that you already have. It can be something small like sewing back a button on a favorite shirt, cleaning out a favorite mug (vinegar works on coffee stains) or filing your nails...whatever it is just do with a spirit of "cool, thanks."
You'll be surprised how good you feel and how that object seems to beam again with all the good attention.
It was the perfect cure to my projects "not-yet-finished" pile. Of course, you will have to finish the 10-minute thank you project. The easiest way is to do it during a chore you have to do anyway...
Would love to hear how it goes.
Over the past ten years, I have spent summer days in a myriad of places -- Fiji, Indonesia, Australia, Spain, France, Holland, and China among others.
This summer, I decided to celebrate graduation by just hanging out in my favorite -- nearby -- places. The first stop was Marblehead, MA.
I'm fortunate that my extended family happens to be from one of the most pristine and adorable colonial towns left in America. Marblehead lucked out by not having a harbor big enough for the Industrial Revolution. So it remained colonial. The local residents carefully selected modern advancements (like plumbing and electricity) and left out franchises and much modern construction. As a result, you can meander down the streets seeing little signs on houses indicating which shipmaster, baker, or merchant lived in said house in the 17th and 18th century.
So no Roman Holiday this year, Fijian coconuts, or swims off the coast of France. Instead, I played football with my nephew, practiced my jack knife dive with the kids, picked tomatoes for my aunt, biked around colonial America and enjoyed the rich blessing of us all being alive and together.
I was also able to spend some time in the art studio of my cousin, Jonathan Sherman.
My childhood skate and snowboarding pal grew up to be an astonishing artist, specializing in Renaissance techniques and stained glass. (If you want to commission a museum-quality piece of work, click on his name above). Many people in my family have special talents and huge accomplishments, but none of that was the point of the dinner you see above. It was the giggles and togetherness that mattered most.
The youngest used a pack of cards to assign seats by age. The kids spent the afternoon with Jonathan and his lovely wife making the Happy Birthday sign for Sally.
Having had the great good fortune to travel all over the world, I have many "happy places." This summer, Marblehead shined as brightly as Rome.
Even though my academic and professional expertise is conflict resolution and post-conflict work, I just cannot stop reminding people of the importance of eating well.
It became such a core part of how I transformed my own health.
The energy I have, the abundant health I now experience comes in large part from my food.
And now connecting with my food in deeper ways (gardening, cooking) has been taking me to another level.
What good are hopes and dreams if I cannot get out of bed or poop out at 3pm?
But now eating well means more to me than health; it's about power.
Who makes money off your sickness?
I get livid when hearing what schools/families feed kids and them medicate them for things diet alone would change. Then don't get me started the food & pharmaceutical industries' manipulation (purposeful or not) of our knowledge about health.
Seriously. I can't stand it. The majority of medications people are on can be eliminated with taking better care of yourself.
Sorry, folks. Yes even all those "mental health" drugs.
As my friend, who worked at as trauma psychiatrist at Columbia said, "I can give people drugs, but I cannot give them a reason to live. They have to find a sense of purpose."
They tried to give me some silly drugs those two when I was a teenager. I flushed them down the toilet and changed my life instead. Now, I'm happy as a clam. I fixed my legs and my brain; just had to live a bigger life.
Oh, and seriously, please stop drugging your kids for being vibrant.
How do I know what I am eating?
If you want to skip the food journal, just take a look in your trash can.
I started looking in my trash can to get a better sense of what I was putting in my body.
Trash is like a road map of what I have been up to the past few days.
If there are wrappers and lots of cardboard boxes, I realize I'm probably not eating a great deal of fresh food.
This photos is of a rather proud moment. Trash was from harvested radishes, garlic skin, and a used lemon! Wow, so cool.
Just have a look at your trash next time you tie it up. If there are lots of logos, you're probably on the wrong track.
For all you activists, entrepreneurs, managers and others out there struggling to breakthrough in your work, I'd like to turn your attention to an incredible resource you may have overlooked.
For the past -- maybe ten years now -- I have had the good fortune to spend time with my mother and stepfather as well as aunt and uncle in their retirement community. What astounds me about my visits is the absolutely incredible amount of talent, life experience and brilliance of these healthy and retired people.
So many of them care about the world -- want to contribute and do not know how or have tons of business experience and time to teach you.
Mentors, Mentors Everywhere
Rather than elbowing my way to the proverbial CEO or Dean's office, I slap on some flip flops and head over to the pool. There, seated next to "you never know who" I can learn about Canadian politics, the real estate business, academic publishing, teaching, sales, cooking, planting butterfly gardens and anything else.
This generation of retirees, isn't old those who succeeded in financial terms just have choice about how they spend their golden years.
Many people I visit can crush me in tennis, almost all can leave me in tears on the golf course. Just because they're retired doesn't mean they're not still in the game or have much to share.
If you have a conundrum or a non-profit you're supporting, I suggest you tap the resources at your local retirement home.
Plus, I find because these communities are generally a single demographic, they tend to appreciate having younger folks around. Your problems may seem like an interesting challenge to them. They won't make fun of you, they'll help you.
Today's grandparents don't knit, they build homes, travel the world and take on new challenges.
Bringing together the elderly and the very young!
Some folks (ah-hem, the Canadians) are getting hip regarding how to engage with the very elderly. They've begun something I hope continues throughout North America.
In Invermere British Columbia, the Garden Village retirement home has partnered up with a local kindergarten. The retirement residents teach the kids and the kids love all these "grandparents" doting on them. One girl even wanted to have her birthday at the home.
Heck, when I'm 100, I want kindergarten kids all around me. What a joy!
I hope programs follow this example. We need our retirees and our elderly; they are a treasure. Let's bring them back into the fold.
Click here to read the Globe and Mail article about the program.
(Photo below by John Lehmann of the Globe and Mail)
Sometimes a loved one or colleague experiences a death of someone close, an illness, a major life transition, or loss of a partner and we are too deep in our own lives to really take notice or be there for them. We feel guilty; we just were not able to really be there.
Then months later or even years later we surface from whatever occupied us and we feel embarrassed that we failed our loved one. We may tell ourselves, "I will be there next time." Or we withdrawal from the relationship.
In this blog, I want to say that you can still support the friend through that same issue.
The following two examples, one from my personal life and the other through my academic research in post-conflict contexts and trauma, show the importance of being there now...whenever "now" may be.
Missing the Cancer Treatments
The first involves a a friend who went through a double mastectomy last year. At the time I actually did not want to bother her; I figured she had many people taking care of her and I was buried in my research.
Instead of burying my embarrassment, I decided I would just be an amazing "aftermath friend." I have learned from spending time with people who survived persecution or lost family to senseless persecution that the aftermath can be the worst.
I told her my plan and she said, "Thank you. Most people do not realize how difficult it is after the cancer even when you are in remission." The experience was really difficult for her and changed the way she saw her life. Her children and husband were still struggling to emerge from that difficult period. So we talked about what life was life for her now.
Not many people paid attention to this phase of her recovery and I was able to step up and be there.
Missing the Atrocity
Then there are the atrocities that occurred either before we knew the person, overseas or even before we were born. Holocaust survivors, for example. I am not able to go back to the 1940s and help them during the persecutions or even in the immediate aftermath when many told me they starved and barely survived homeless and without work.
The assumption here might be that, "well, it happened before I was born. It's too late for me to help."
Not so. Many Holocaust survivors and likely survivors of other life traumas are isolated and alone with memories that resurface during their final years. People think that because they married, had successful careers, and children that they "made it."
If you were open, you could be there for all kinds of people years after their actual suffering. Some of my most profound moments this past year have been with people who suffered long ago and said after our time together things like, "Wow, I haven't told these stories to anyone. I wish you could stay; there is so much more to say."
Call them now...
If someone came to mind as you read this, send an email or call them. When you reach them just say, "Hey, I know you went through a rough patch and I was not able to be there for you. I wanted to see how you are now and how you feel about what happened."
Just be honest...they will be touched. And surprised!
Let me know how it goes...
Sarah Federman, PhD
Enjoy these short blogs and videos designed to bring you a little cheer.
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.