Photo: Millesgarden, Stockholm, Fall 2005
Last week I spent four days at a retreat center in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. By. My. Self. Away from this dude for the first time in almost twenty months, if you count cooking time. The retreat, focused on strength-based leadership, was the last of four intense training and fellowship gatherings over the past two years as part of the Environmental Leadership Program. This whole experienc was rejuvenating on every level. Each morning as a wide arc of sunshine swept across the snowy bosoms of the surrounding hills with a Fantasia-like flourish, we contemplated radical notions such as that we never again introduce someone by their job title.
Imagine just for a moment how monumental that would be: "Mary Ann, this is Omar and he believes that the way to break the cycle of poverty and disempowerment among youth in the Bronx is by creating a legacy of worker-owned green businesses. Omar, where Mary Ann is from, they're blowing up the mountains in her backyard and she's doing something about it."
Compare that to: "Mary Ann, this is Omar. He runs a building material recycling business. Omar, Mary Ann works for a group trying to stop mountaintop removal coal mining." By making a meaningful introduction, by telling each what really moves the other, there is an instant connection, a common passion to protect their homes and communities (yes, they're actual friends of mine and yep, they're every bit as amazing as they sound). And here's the really amazing thing. In that first introduction, there's no mention of what they actually do.
This simple idea blew my mind. I had my mind blown a lot those four days. It felt like a mental window-cleaning. The everyday grime was squeegee'd away and the world just looked a little brighter and sparklier afterward. It didn't hurt that the retreat center was in an achingly beautiful setting, steeped in the quest of many before us committed to peace, reconciliation and justice. I felt humbled by it all. And as the final buffing of my fresh new perspective, I took home some new books of poetry by Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry and a gorgeously-illustrated childrens' book called An African American Alphabet. I don't know what drew me to poetry other than it's about the right length for the amount of time I get to read these days.