Friday, November 09, 2012

A Night Away

Each year I attend a retreat sponsored by the Friends Council on Education; the invited participants are all people who hold the same position at different Quaker schools. From yesterday noon until today at noon, I was with six other heads' assistants at Pendle Hill, a retreat center near Philadelphia. Our group was smaller than usual; some years we have had as many as sixteen or eighteen. Smaller, but no less powerful, no less meaningful.

Casual and comfortable is the setting, informal is the meeting. Last evening as we talked and shared, I hand-stitched the binding on this quilt for my upcoming sixth grandchild. And just now, as I was typing this, I noticed the mistake! Well, it is too late now . . . .

We did a lot of discussing of the work that we have in common. We took a field trip to nearby Swarthmore College to visit the Friends Historical Library and the Peace Collection. We ate delicious and nutritious meals, experiencing kohlrabi for the first time -- oddly enough, in a salad with grapefruit and mint. We talked. We talked a lot.

Someone led a reflection exercise on paradox. I'm not crazy about these kinds of things. We were asked to think back to a time in our lives when we had experienced paradox and how we had dealt with it. At first I drew a complete blank and then a most unwanted situation from the past came to my mind. And it would not go away. Step two was to take a walk with a partner and share. I wanted no parts of this but in such a small group, I was not able to comfortably decline participation. I deliberately asked the only person that I had not known from previous group meetings to be my partner and when we set out, I told her that my paradox had come to my mind unwelcome and I wasn't sure I was interested in sharing it.

My partner was fine with that. She went on to talk about a time when she learned that she had to become uncomfortable in order to be comfortable. She does some diversity work, and the sharing that leads to growth is often uncomfortable. I listened and processed with her and then we walked along quietly. At last I decided that if becoming uncomfortable had made her comfortable, perhaps I should give it a try. I know that it is often easier to share something with a stranger than with an intimate, and so I told her my unwelcome paradox. She was terrific: she just listened and nodded, didn't ask hard questions, didn't try to "fix it." We walked along in silence again. Then my partner shared that my story was remarkably similar to a situation she was dealing with in her personal life, and went on to tell me about it.

When we returned to the group gathering, the leader had placed postcards with various images on the table and asked everyone to pick a postcard that somehow connected with the experience. I immediately went for one of a spiral shell, thinking that in our conversation, as we walked along, went around, we went deeper and deeper.




7 comments:

Janet O. said...

Interesting, insightful post, Nancy.

Sharon said...

shared your quilt pic with a quilter at church. We decided it may presage a grandchild who flies by his / her own path.

The Contrary Goose?

Quiltdivajulie said...

Lovely post . . . what a wonderfully rare opportunity in this hectic world to consider and contemplate.

LOVE the quilt (and the Contrary Goose name suggestion).

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Nautilus shell holds deep meaning and significance in life, I believe. The shell's formation is one of nature's neatest Fibonacci sequences. I love that.

Barbara Anne said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughtful post.

Your choice of the spiral shell reminded me of something DH said when he was in seminary. He said an image of an onion had come to mind when he was thinking about faith and belief. This onion was different. Instead of being smaller and smaller inside, each deeper layer of this onion was larger and larger than you could imagine.

Love the quilt! Applause, applause!

AnnieO said...

Intriguing retreat--unblocking the brain's deep crevices must feel exhausting and exhilarating! Not that I would know, shallow brained as I am:)

Jindi's Cottage said...

Oops! Ah well it will just be all the more special as it is even more unique as well as fabulous...