Tuesday, September 23, 2014

All I Know

Over the last couple of weeks I've been sharing thoughts on forgiveness, and reconciliation, and reunion versus re-union, and examining the past from a different perspective.  I’m giving people chances, overcoming fear and hurt, and more, with several dear friends.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about their stories and experiences, their fears, and reflecting on the pure healing energy of love that I feel with them and that I felt at the last two retreats with the Wind Children at St. Dorothy's.  Some people have told me how they overcame their fears and reservations about joining us at the retreat, others are still considering whether to go to the next or not, some feel that they don't need it and can shut the door on the past, some say they just cannot open that door.

I wrote to a couple of friends recently, "Reconciliation, full circle, and forgiveness are a big part of this group.  It's part of our DNA.  This is more than a high school reunion party."

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of party at these gatherings, with laughter and joy and memories.  In fact, re-treat is a good term for them due to the shared goodies that are consumed!  However, anyone who's been a part of this group and survived at least one tour knows that there's no escaping the lessons learned and the high experienced when one has successfully navigated the Full Circle Experience.

What I’ve discovered through these last two weekend retreats is that the reunions are more than the superficial happy gatherings of people from casual relationships that were generated through school or work experiences.  When you were in the Wind Children, you were in a much more intense emotional relationship with everyone.  We chose the Wind Children and didn’t just fall into the community through family, the school district we happened to land in, or the college we decided to attend.  Even if we did start off in the group as the pal of a member, our participation was completely voluntary and it took a significant commitment on our part.  As a result, these recent gatherings are more than a simple reunion.  They are a re-union, a re-connection of people at a deeper level who shared experiences that no one else we know has had.  It’s been an opportunity for healing and discovery.  Having a full weekend to dig in, especially at a place as special as St. Dorothy’s, brought about a more meaningful experience than I could have ever imagined.  When I started thinking about an SDR weekend gathering, I thought it would be a great way to have a good time reminiscing.  What happened surprised me.  People let their hair down, and in their 50s they are more courageous and willing to be honest about their experiences, good and bad, their memories and lessons learned, and to seek understanding and reconciliation.  It has also been an opportunity to give thanks to those who inspired, taught, or loved us.   There are lots of those people present, as well.  Many of us discovered that we had touched the lives of others in ways we were not even aware of.
I bruise you, you bruise me
We both bruise too easily, too easily to let it show
I love you and that's all I know

We touched on that love and fear thing in my last blog post, eh?  Well, it's an ever present problem.  And that fear, when it's tied to experiences in a group this intense AND during our teen years when everything is intense, is a tough thing to overcome.  Here are some stories about love and fear and re-union and re-connection.
All my plans have fallen through,
All my plans depend on you, depend on you to help them grow 

Those plans, those plans!  They are so essential, especially on tour.  During tour, the group had to come together more than ever.  It required every person to be committed to taking responsibility for their own part of tour, to work together, to respect each other, and to reach their goals in a safe and (mostly) responsible way.  (We were primarily junior high and high school students, after all.  There were mistakes.)  When problems arose, we had to work together to resolve them.  When we screwed up, we had to learn to accept responsibility for our actions and make amends.  Through these efforts, we learned about personal growth (Personal Growth Points!) and stretched what we believed our limits to be and became better people.  Mostly.  When those ideals were ignored or forgotten, when the group failed to come together, and when the group did not have the core support that was needed to be successful, things went awry.  Sometimes in a seriously messed up way.  (I wanted to use the f-word there, but refrained in order to keep this at least PG-rated.)

Betrayal and struggle without resolution or reconciliation is a tough thing to handle.  When those things are never discussed or addressed, when people walk away without acknowledging (or perhaps even being aware) that they screwed up, that can leave lasting damage.  Even though it may be harder to go full circle after 30 years, I think that it's still necessary.  It's probably even more frightening to confront that moment now than it would have been at the time it happened.  After all, we rationalize that we should just get over it and let it go and tell ourselves that it doesn't matter.  But it does.  And then we tell ourselves that we don't need it because we'll just run into the same problems with those individuals that we had before.  But I haven't seen that happen yet.  And then we tell ourselves that no one will care anyway.  But that isn't true, either.
I love you and that's all I know.

Yeah, there's that L-word again.  And it's still a bright and shining force overcoming the fear and the hurt and the anger and the betrayal.  Love grows stronger as people recognize their part in the problem, or realize for the first time what they have done, and make amends.  Even if reconciliation is not possible, having the rest of the group there to support and nurture you helps.

I have truly great memories with individuals I knew and loved - but an organized reunion or retreat is pretty much a non-starter for me.
I have great memories, but a lot of bad ones too. I am not sure I want to go to a reunion.

In selecting who we want to see, we are trying to create the only positive experience that we can imagine, which limits the boundless possibilities of a potential experience.  If I had chosen only those people I wanted to see at the last reunions, I would have had a predictably pleasant short vacation.  Instead, I was surprised at the connections I made with people that I hadn't had an opportunity to get really close to.  I was blessed to be able to have discussions with people I'd thought didn't like me or I thought I might have hurt.  I was amazed to learn that some saw things in me that they appreciated and had remembered through the years.  I had been wrong all this time in my perception and could have missed out on these opportunities to develop brand-new and renewed relationships that will endure and benefit each of us for years.

From 1977 in Ethete:
Very quickly, the Wind Children went into one of those sessions where they hash out their problems with one another. At the end of this session, we again saw some 60 odd Wind Children holding hands in that inter-weaving chain that we saw when we passed the rock during communion.  ...  Everybody wanted to go to bed that night after going to the people they had been having trouble with. It was a time of going full circle with arguments, a time of forgiveness, and a time of massive hugging.

And from 1978 in Dogellau:
We gathered in the barn at 11:00 am to hold the service.  The spirit of this group began in a communion service on a wind-swept cliff in Utah and it seems that we need to come together in this way in order to keep our perspective.  It is hard to describe just why communion services are so healing with the Wind Children.  The experience is so intimate; I would compare it to spiritual group therapy.  We passed the rock and this can take quite a long time when ninety-three people speak their inner feelings, one by one. But out in the wind and cold, we felt warm as we took time for airing our inner feelings. It seemed that many had a need to get rid of some "garbage" as people confessed of jealousy, petty feelings and anger.  There was a real healing of relationships through ventilation and forgiveness.  It seemed to me that we pulled together in our tour community through this service.  We can get so caught in the whirlwind of activities that we lose our center, but we are always brought back together through communing.

One thing we discovered during these last two retreats is that even though we had planned to pass the rock, it wasn't necessary for these healing moments to take place (as shown in the example from Ethete, above).  We've learned a lot over these last two retreat weekends so I believe that we will pass the rock next time.  However, that is not an absolute necessity for healing. 
And we felt hit by this mighty wind rushing us. Doors flew open, window shutters slammed; there was light, fiery light, like tongues of fire on the people's heads. And we were together, we were one, and we were a moving force!
Do you remember those times?  Do you remember what it felt like to be as one?  Do you remember that it takes work, and that taking the easy path doesn't lead to great reward?

I asked another friend this recently:  Do you want to allow a small percentage of your WC experience to obliterate the overwhelming majority of the good?  

One participant this year shared with me:
Whenever I come back from a visit to CWC friends, I am a changed person…. A significantly changed person.  [My spouse] and people at work notice it and comment on it.  It is a good feeling.  To apologize is good….to be forgiven is even better….to forgive someone else…fantastic!

When the singer's gone let the song go on...
But the ending always comes at last,
Endings always come too fast,
They come too fast but they pass too slow

What if we don't act on those opportunities to address old wounds and allow them to heal?  We could never attain the gift of understanding and forgiveness and healing, and could carry those old "bad memories" into the future and beyond the grave.  What if they weren't really bad?  What if our perspective was skewed?  What if we miss an opportunity to hear an apology from the person who hurt us?  Forever?

When my brother died, I could not find our Wind Children family easily.  I despaired because I could not find our tribe. That anxiety compounded everything else that I was dealing with, and Wind Children were my salvation.  Because of the presence of the many Wind Children who were there, I was able to mourn Tim not only with our biological family, but with our spiritual family, as well.  Erik and Kirby saved me.  Everyone there did.  And the thought of those I could not reach slayed me.  I have had to break that news to Wind Children family years later too many times, and it broke my heart to do so.  After Tim's death and this struggle, I began gathering contact information and vowed that we would no longer see each other only at funerals.  

I love you and that's all I know

One participant told me that when she heard another member was coming to the reunion she internally shrugged.  "Whatever."  She wondered where that feeling came from because they used to be very close.  Then she remembered that those indifferent feelings had been deliberately sown by herself because the other had started dating her ex-boyfriend.  As she reflected on where that feeling of disdain had come from, she had to laugh at herself.  She seriously set aside a valuable friendship because of a boy?  And one whom neither of them were even remotely involved with today?  When she saw this person at the reunion, she was able to let go of that old memory and enjoy renewing that friendship.  That opportunity could have been lost if she'd held onto that emotion without examining it.

As for me, I have at least one person that I feel I need to talk with, but without these opportunities old wounds are going to remain unresolved and unhealed.  My sense is that all parties are feeling hurt.  I have a deep need to find out what happened to cause the rifts, to share my own pain, and to find out if I did something so I might be able to make amends to heal the relationships.  Sometimes I want to write a letter to be delivered upon my death to some (yes, I consider these things!). What is in that imaginary letter changes, so it never gets written.  One version is "I forgive you," and the other is "I never forgave you."  Neither one feels right yet, though I yearn for the first.

I have lots of forgiving to figure out how to do and it's tough to do that without an opportunity to talk with them.  I still love these people. I still want to figure out what went wrong and how we salvage what I believe are valuable friendships.
Are those "bad memories" really "bad" or were they simply difficult teenage/young adult times that never got cleared through that full circle moment?  Is there an opportunity for shared understanding and forgiveness and reconciliation?

It's a fine line between the darkness and the dawn.
They say in the darkest night there's a light beyond

One absolute truth that people discovered from these last two re-union retreats has been how wonderful it was for every participant, in spite of them having to overcome their own fears about being there.  I can guarantee you that each and every person was hesitant the first time they attended a re-union.  They worried about how they would feel seeing some people.  They were afraid of rejection or feeling left out.  They were concerned about the reaction of an old lover.  Or more than one.  Or their spouse.  There were as many concerns as there were people, and each person was able to overcome those fears and recognize that this is family.  We speak the same language, have experiences so similar they may as well have been the same, and share the same music, memories, and story.

A whole weekend to see your high school friends?  But just like on tour, things take time to unfold. A coffee reunion, a picnic = polite, safe, catching up.  A weekend?  Reflection, re- union.  It's okay to talk, to listen, to observe.  There was no forced sharing.  You really don't know the effect you'll have on others, how something you might say or they might overhear, someone you weren't even close with, might have an impact.  (One person whom I'd never even met in CWC, profoundly affected me through conversations last weekend.)  What are you avoiding and why?  If you are avoiding with respect to this group, where else in life does that also emerge?

All of us found acceptance and affirmation at the re-union.  It is pretty much a given that you will be "in the club."  You will probably not even be able to make it out of the parking lot before you hear joyful greetings and are embraced again and again by people who are genuinely happy to see you.  As any participant at the last two reunions will tell you, they were mobbed on arrival in a very good way.  People stopped what they were doing, paused conversations, to physically get up and greet each person as they arrived.  That love continued throughout the weekend until it was time to regretfully say goodbye.  Until next time.

When the singer's gone let the song go on
Do we keep taking the easy way out and then live with regret when it's too late?  What will our lingering song be?  One of love and light and lives changed for the better, or grudges and regret?
Forgiveness and Grace are wonderful tools that I am just beginning to understand.  Especially with what we have all been through.  We are too old to let something from 30 years ago prevent us from restarting friendships…..
Indeed.  Let's let this be our song.  Let's remember the reward gained from honest reflection and love and forgiveness and understanding.  Let's be brave enough to go to the reunions so we don't only see each other at funerals or memorials.  Let's make room for the good things and let go of the bad.  Let's do the work because the reward is so, so sweet.

I love you, and that's all I know.

Lyrics:  "All I Know," written by Jimmy Webb and performed by Erik Swerrie in The Spiritual (and by Art Garfunkel)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Get Together

Love is but a song we sing
And fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Know the dove is on the wing
And you may not know why

I just spent the weekend with some very special people in my life at a very special place.

Located in Camp Meeker, California, St. Dorothy's Rest and Retreat Center is a haven from the hustle and bustle of the world.  Cell signal is spotty for most and the cool redwoods, quiet and beautiful ancient grounds, and kind and passionate staff make for a wonderful weekend retreat.  Add in a special group of people, and you can create magic.

A California Wind Children reunion retreat is always something special with lessons learned, relationships deepened, renewal of spirit, and/or a new appreciation gained for others or for ourselves.  This group is too complex to try to describe in a single blog post and defies understanding even for its members who were a part of the Wind Children experience from 1975 through 1983.  Hundreds of newspaper articles about the group published across the United States, Canada, and overseas cannot even touch what the Wind Children are.  We learn something more each time we sift through our memories and experiences and share them with each other.

For me, one of the most important lessons learned during the teenage years I spent with this group was the concept of "Full Circle."  Learning to share with another human being when you have been hurt or have an issue to address with them is difficult to learn at any age, and especially in high school.  It's a way of living that is always challenging, no matter how often we practice it.

C’mon people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
What we learned is that when we approach each other with respect and love and share our individual experience, we allow the other person to see through our eyes and to learn and grow.  As they share their view, we learn as well.  If all are open, honest, and trusting, forgiveness and a renewed and strengthened relationship can grow.  And yet time is fleeting...

Some may come and some may go
We will surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment’s sunlight
Fading in the grass

Thirty-plus years after the Wind Children disbanded as an active group, we are losing members to accident and disease at an increasingly rapid pace.  We honor Tim Bohler, Abigail Shippey, Mark Mueller, Gerry O'Halloran, Stella Haight, and David E. Fritz as we strive to live in the moment and take every opportunity to be with those we love and share this special bond with.  I have often said that feeling gratitude or love for another and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and then not giving it (quote from W.A. Ward).  We have a need to share those thoughts, memories, and feelings with each other, and to also address the old hurts and allow them to heal before it is too late. 

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command

It takes courage to come full circle.  One must overcome the fear to bring up the hurt, accept the challenge to become a better person, and experience forgiveness for things that we often didn't even realize we had done.

Sometimes someone isn't ready for that full circle moment, and we must learn to be okay with their decision.  In that moment we let go of our need to control others, and we learn that the greatest gift we can give ourselves is forgiveness.  Holding on to resentment, hurt, and anger is only diminishing us, our lives, our potential, and dims the light of love that we hold for the world.

Some members of the group had not yet attended a reunion retreat or any gathering for over 30 years. Some shared with me that they were nervous coming, all that teenage angst and fear trying to hold them back after all these years.  Some described how just driving up the hill to St. Dorothy's created a sense of calm and anticipation in them, and once they saw people as they entered Main House, and were enveloped by joyful hugs and sincere loving greetings, all of their fears fell away.  They left with a sense of renewal, reconnection, and greater strength, knowing that this community is with them always.  They left knowing that they are loved and always have been, that their contributions to the whole of Wind Children are important, and that there is a need for them to be present in the future. 

So push back the fear and reach for love.  Forgive others, and forgive yourself.  See the humanity in all and bring out the best in them.  Love one another.  Right Now.

C’mon people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Credit to Chet Powers (aka Dino Valenti) for the lyrics to Get Together, recorded in 1967 by The Youngbloods