When I returned from my extended trip to the UK it was obvious that something was wrong. There were too many cars coming and going from my neighbor’s house and she hadn’t responded to my text from a couple days earlier. It took a few days of observing the comings and goings to get up the courage to go over and check on her.
I felt a brick sitting on my chest as I went over to her house. My breath was coming in short and shallow and I couldn’t make myself pull it in deeply or exhale fully. It was causing me to feel lightheaded as I tapped on the door.
I didn’t know the woman who answered the door, nor the other two standing in the living room. I caught a glimpse of Stan*, her husband, sitting in his chair in the other room watching TV. Joan* was sitting on a floral-patterned chair with her feet resting on the matching ottoman, which was covered with a white cloth, perhaps a towel.
Her hair had started to come back in. Before I left on my trip, she was talking about shaving the few remaining strands that were defying her chemo-induced baldness. We had talked about how to tie head scarves. Wigs were too hot. She recalled that from her first bout with chemo a number of years ago, before I knew her. This was the third time she was fighting the demon.
I felt awkward and out of place, like I was interrupting a private gathering. I stayed just long enough to learn that it was her birthday. And to tell her why I had come over. And to ask if she was OK. She said, "I’m fine." Of course she did. That’s what she always said. I left without even wishing her happy birthday. I could only imagine it was the lack of oxygen in my brain.
*Names have been changed
Image Credit: Anastasia Shuraeva
On Saturday morning I went to the farmer’s market on a mission.
I found the flower vendor and she created a stunning bouquet, full of life and color and sweet scents. When she found out what is was for, she added three perfect, scarlet-colored, long-stemmed roses.
Joan’s sister, who happens to be a nurse, was staying with her. The four of us, Stan, Joan, her sister, and I spent much of Saturday and Monday afternoon laughing about stories of their childhood and Joan and Stan’s meeting. They taught me how to make a Ceasar (a drink I had never heard of) and we figured out how to get a new TV operating, since theirs had given up the night before.
Meanwhile, back at home, my work was piling up and I didn’t have much time to get it done.
I had been gone for nearly five weeks, only two of which were planned. And I was attending a rather intense workshop starting on the following Tuesday, so I would be away from home for three more days.
It wasn’t a hard choice to make, spending that time with Joan.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t even anxious about what wasn’t getting done. I’ll credit the fact that I was still basking in a "people priority afterglow" following the time with family and friends in London.
Image Credit: Valiant Made
Good is Better Than Not So Good
Perhaps it’s more than just the afterglow.
I’ve been immersed in a lot of additional learning and exploring about relationships lately. It’s probably no surprise to you that good relationships require ongoing attention and personal stretching. There is no end to the opportunities for improvement!
The three-day intensive workshop I mentioned above was about racial equity. And this followed a 10-month program on the same topic. The entire experience has been challenging--eye-opening, confrontive (of my own ignorance and bias), and powerful. Hard, but good…really good. This is embarrassing to admit, but I have spent a lot of decades believing that being ‘colorblind’ was a good thing. I actually felt sort of proud of it (I’m cringing as I write this now…).
But that’s not all.
I’ve also been involved in a year-long certification process in Conversational Intelligence™ (C-IQ). In brief, the focus is on moving from an I-centric to a more WE-centric culture…in ourselves, our organizations, our families, our communities. It is a companion to the EQ/RQ (emotional intelligence/relational intelligence) work I’ve been doing over the last dozen or so years.
And in April I was reminded of how much I love working with teams when one of my team members and I worked with the leadership team of one of our executive coaching clients. Supporting and challenging teams to build the trust and have the conversations they need to have is not only gratifying, it requires us as coaches and facilitators to really pay attention and be and do what we are helping others be and do.
So, what does all of this mean?
If I were to pare it all down to the most basic, ongoing learnings for me, it would be these…
- It is our relationships, and often it is the most challenging ones, that provide the vehicle for us to be more fully human--more humane, wise, gracious, strong, loving
- Good relationships require being present, really present—making the time to just be with people, to invite their stories, to listen with a curiosity about who they are and what they care about, what inspires them, what delights them, as well as what hurts them. The same applies to being present to ourselves, treating ourselves with same level of care and respect and curiosity
- And there are times when the most respectful, loving thing we can do is to make waves—to shake up and disrupt the patterns and systems that are hurtful or destructive.
As simple and perhaps cliched as these things sound, they are hard to live into consistently. It is an ongoing cycle of learning, relearning, and unlearning, learning, relearning, unlearning…
Image Credit: Sherryl Christie
Cycle of Life
Joan transitioned out of this life at 4:51 am Pacific time on Thursday morning. Just 23 days following Chloe’s birth. Life, death, and rebirth.
The picture, above, was taken by Joan’s granddaughter when she was awakened by the news of her grandmother’s passing. She was staying at my house at the time.
"The clouds looked like stairs to heaven," she told me when I returned home that night.
- QUESTION ONE:
In what ways might you not be truly seeing people, perhaps because you are focusing on treating everyone equally?
- QUESTION TWO:
What is one small way you could show up differently in your relationships that would make a difference to you and to others?
- QUESTION THREE:
What is one relationship in which you could be more truly present? What might that be like—look like, sound like, and feel like—if you did?
May you be well-loved, renewed, and continuing to grow in your cycles of life and relationships