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.
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.
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.