Archive for the ‘Small Moments in Time’ Category

The New world of feedback

September 27, 2017

I have long been a proponent of feedback. Years before my training as an executive coach or social worker, I believed in the importance of letting someone know of my appreciation for a job well done, or if there was a big disconnect between my expectations and whatever job was at hand. It felt like a responsibility, as I know I would want to know if there were some way I was not meeting an agreement, and I love to hear when I’ve got it right. How are people supposed to grow without it?

The feedback I learned in my organizational consulting training was much more about description than our perceptions of “good” or “bad,” so that people could listen and decide for themselves what needed tweaking or a complete do-over. This was a challenge in itself, but an important skill in encouraging someone to evaluate his or her own performance without the clouding overlay of someone else’s judgement.

In the last few years I was at first really pleased at the increase in surveys after some experience —- at the doctor’s office, the car dealer, or retail store. Given my philosophy, I was diligent about taking the time to fill out and mail back these earnest attempts to improve service. However, recently there has been an explosive upsurge in requesting this “feedback,” particularly with the ease of sending email, and resending and resending til it feels like a screaming (but politely worded) demand.

I have become irritable with not only the volume and frequency, but often the length of the freaking surveys, which should be commensurate with the service. When I had my rotator cuff repaired, there were a lot of moving parts (so to speak) to the procedure, and it was extremely important to me and my health. I was happy to answer questions about the various aspects of this treatment.

However, if I’m buying a tee shirt online, I am not willing to profess at length about my experience. I shopped, I bought, I checked out. Yes, I suppose each one of those phases can be parsed and evaluated, but really?! If it were a complicated order, or required customer service to figure out sizing or a color match for a wedding, I might comment.

At a recent oil change, the gentleman who processed my paperwork leaned in confidentially and advised me that I will be receiving an email survey and that it didn’t really count unless he had five star ratings, so would I please consider that. Talk about getting a bee in my bonnet! The service was fine, and everyone was pleasant, but I am not going to be coerced into handing out a five star rating. In fact the time before I had an unusual light on in my car, which took extra time to fix, but they went out of their way to keep me posted and threw in a free oil change because it took so many hours. That’s worth rating, but if we’re supposed to comment on every pack of gum we purchase, or bag of dog food we run in to pick up, we’ll be spending as much time commenting on our experience as living it. Good intentions have gone out of balance.

As I was thinking about writing this a couple of weeks ago, I peered out at the torrential rain and realized that every day but one looked like rain for our upcoming week’s vacation. Determined to enjoy being outdoors in Provence, I started looking for rain boots. Too late even for Amazon Prime, I called LL Bean when I spotted low yellow boots that looked perfect. They did have my size and color there at the store 20 miles away. “Do you need them tonight?” asked the salesperson.

“No, but I need them when we leave tomorrow afternoon,” I replied.

“Well, do you have to come here? Where are you coming from?” I interpreted this question literally, not philosophically and told her where I live and she exclaimed, “I live the next town over, right on the border!”

“Oh you’re right on my bike route!” I blurted out.

“Hey, I’m leaving here in a few minutes. I’ll drop them off at your house.” I protested that I would be out, and she brushed that aside, asking where she could leave them. We completed the purchase over the phone and indeed when I returned home that evening my yellow boots were tucked near the back door. Free delivery. Now that’s what I call exceptional (and completely unexpected) service. And no survey has hit my mailbox, electronic or otherwise. But I will go out of my way to let Bean know that their employee went above and beyond, with grace and good humor. That’s what I call feedback.

Reaching from afar

March 3, 2017

I did not plan to be away during the inauguration and following rallies and marches. Last April when my dear college friend and I were planning our trip to Patagonia, there were not even formal nominees, let alone thoughts about whether to march or where. It wasn’t until December that we put together the timing, realizing that we were leaving two days before Inauguration Day. We were in Buenos Aires during the ceremony itself and in transit between Buenos Aires and El Calafate on the day of the marches.

El Calafate is the on-deck site for Perito Moreno glacier, one of the few glaciers that is maintaining itself; it is growing as fast as it is calving and is thus considered stable. Located in the middle of Argentina, it is a dramatic and stunning rendering of a moving river of ice.

I worried that there could be trouble at the marches. Although designed as a peaceful statement, crowds can be unpredictable, especially when emotions run high, and who knows what would happen? And what could I do from thousands of miles across the planet?

There was wifi in our hotel room and a friend from Scotland posted a photograph of throngs of people in Edinburgh. Tears sprang to my eyes at the thought of people from another country, in a city where my daughter attends University, gathering in acknowledgment and support of concerns on our soil.

In the next minute my daughter exclaimed about the planes that are loaded with people from the UK who are coming to Washington. The tears slipped down my cheeks as I thought about the kind of commitment of time, resources and conviction that this requires and wondered what I would do if I were home.

I believe in speaking up, in being heard, and I believe in people gathering to express concerns, but I am not thrilled about being in huge crowds. When I attended the Paul Simon/ Sting concert at the Garden, I vowed it would be my last concert in this kind of venue.

I posted a request for people to be safe, and went to sleep hoping for the best. The next day my friend and I headed out to hike on the glacier (on the sides, where it is more stable). Later we walked around to view its otherworldly and strikingly beautiful face, jagged jutting pieces of pale and deeper blue overlapping and looking so permanent.

As we gazed at it, we heard a crack like thunder and a small chunk broke off and crashed into the turquoise water. The height of the glacier is equivalent to a twenty story building, and the little chunk that came off was the size of a Mini Cooper, our guide informed us.

Upon return to the hotel, one friend described her experience in Washington, D.C., on the train, then walking as streams of people joined from different streets to converge in larger masses as they flowed together.

I thought about the tributaries of the glacier, rivers of ice and how even though they seem static, they are in fact dynamic, changing structures. It was a good reminder that the reality we are living today is not permanent. I was bowled over by how quickly so many people mobilized all over the world to make clear that threats regarding people’s freedoms and threats to our planet’s health are not going unanswered. Even as I heard people’s frustration about wishing there was more to do, it has become clear that leaders can and will emerge from this chaos. It is not clear yet who, or what forum they will take, but it is early days. The vitality, creativity, and passion are real, and I could feel it all the way in Argentina and Chile. Knowing everyone was okay, and seeing pictures of my husband and older daughter’s thrilled faces, the tears let loose. These are my people. They are all my people. And they are everywhere, ready to mobilize, protect and connect. The question of whether or not I might have marched fades away. We all have our parts, and they are all important, as long as we are all heading toward the same river.

Another day in paradise

October 7, 2016

If you had told me a month ago that I would dump my beloved WRX in a hot minute, I would have told you that you were crazy. With a mere 125,000 miles, my Subaru was good for another three to four years at least.

Except on my way to work three weeks ago the clutch started shuddering and then squealing and then spouting smoke as I pulled into the service station near my office. “Your clutch is almost certainly gone,” was Sam’s proclamation. I eyed the plaque on his wall which declared “Another Day in Paradise,” a phrase I heard him utter every time I walked past.

Two hours later he called. “Your transmission is also shot. I’m very sorry.” He wouldn’t recommend installing a new one plus the clutch. While I absorbed this he called back, having located a used transmission with only 40,000 miles. Relieved, I picked it up a few thousand dollars and two days later.

It was the shrill whistling on my way home that sounded the first alert. Increasing in volume and pitch as I drove, my heart sank in reverse proportion. After driving it for a week to make sure it wasn’t something that would just go away, I determined that at sixty five miles an hour, the whine was too high to make out. So if I just flew around town I was all set. Sam could exchange it for another used one, but it was a less than subtle nudge to replace my drive.

I decided to buy new since the 25,000 miles the previous WRX owner drove had clearly been the downfall of my otherwise happy vehicle. Thus began the befuddling and vital sifting of the matrix of variables involved in buying a new car, the second largest purchase most people will make in a lifetime. I listed my priorities: new, manual transmission, all wheel drive, responsive (read zippy) engine, good looks and reasonable price. I could get everything I wanted if willing to spend forty grand or more.

At the Nissan dealer I waited for my salesperson to get back to me with numbers on trade in value for my car and incentives on a new one. A woman roughly my age and I trolled for snacks at 6:30 pm on Labor Day Monday. “What are you driving now?” she asked. I pointed to my sporty blue car. “You want a manual transmission?” she looked as if I had just handed her a spider in a jar. “What color are you looking at now?” I had been thinking Cayenne Red, and she blurted out, “I would be bored with that in three months!” And what color was she considering? “Black. In and out.” “I would be bored with that in three months!”I exclaimed and we both laughed. She was deciding between a Mercedes which she said would stretch her budget every month or a Pathfinder which would be easy to do. We all need to listen to our own masters. There’s no imperative. Just the balancing of what’s most important with what’s possible.

I wasn’t willing to strap myself for any car. We ended up side by side negotiating with our sales people. I hope she gets the deal of her dreams, including the 0% financing. I would need to sleep on the generous trade in, plus $500 incentive for my base model Juke with its paddle shifters and installed moonroof.

Monday evening I’ll kiss my WRX goodbye and drive away smiling in my Bordeaux Black (shines eggplant color in the sun) Juke. Another Day in Paradise.

Driving for Distraction

July 10, 2015

I have always loved to drive. I grew up learning on VW Bugs and Toyota Corollas, so standard transmission was, well, the standard. I knew it was time to switch to automatic when driving in rush hour traffic on I93 into Boston with one hand on the wheel and one hand desperately trying to keep our antsy two year old in her car seat. Not fair to use my knee for steering and this was well before cell phones were a threat to safe driving.

When the same daughter got her license and needed a car to get herself to a school with no bus service, I realized I could make the shift back to five on the floor. When we visited the Subaru lot I was thinking Impreza, and maybe even a new car, of which I had only ever bought one. We test drove both the Impreza and its sportier version when I spotted a bright blue WRX. My husband insists that he was the one who suggested I try it. Either way, one spin around the block and I was hooked. This turbo charged beauty is HAPPY. No delay in pick up- it has plenty of zip plus all wheel drive and the 5 speeds I was looking for. I was sold.

I had no idea that I was joining a Young Men’s club. My daughter’s friends, did, evidently. As do the guys who change the oil, or the random people who give a thumbs up at a stop light.

Pulling into the gas station the other day, I had to back up a little to let a woman out. There was enough room for the QE II to pass through, but she seemed annoyed that I was not backing up even further (and launching myself into the street). I pulled up to the pump and the guy swiftly leaned down. Uh-oh, I thought. Maybe I had been rude and there was only room for a much smaller ocean liner to pass by me.

“What can I getcha, my Subaru Sister?” he asked brightly. I wasn’t being scolded! We were bonding! I must have looked a little bit dazed, but said “Fill with Premium, please.”

“What year is this?” he asked. Had I made the wrong choice?

“It’s a 2008; I got it in 2011.”

“Oh, the first year they made this body. It’s narrower than the later ones. I have a 2015, the one year they didn’t make a hatchback. See? It’s right back there. Check it out! So what was that you wanted?”

“Premium? Filled, please.”

“Yeah, that’s what I put in mine.”

We chatted a few more minutes about how much we love our cars and how much fun they are to drive. I feel a little like an imposter because I don’t know anything about stats, I have not suped mine up, and I don’t even drive particularly aggressively. (Says me. My husband used to call me Emerson (Fittipaldi) because of my penchant for, um, efficient driving.) I have started to own that I should just expect comments of comradeship from the young men with whom I come into contact who enjoy cars. I don’t have to worry about the fact that they are my daughters’ ages. We are just sharing the simple appreciation of a well made car that we can afford that offers a driving experience pleasure. As well as handling well in the snow. In my book, the ideal marriage of form and function. Now if only I could put the top down……

The More Things Change….

June 8, 2014

I’m someone who likes change. I enjoy variety in my food, in my work outs, in the music I listen to, the roads I take to different places, in my wardrobe, where I vacation, even what I choose to write about. Why then, was it such a blow to receive the news that the pet store that has been in town for 20 years (exactly as long as I have!) is closing its doors at the end of the month?


It is not just that I like to support small family run businesses, although that, too, is true. It is not simply that they carry the type of dog and cat food that our animals consume, or that they have the best greeting cards around. Certainly, it is not the $10 I save when I fill my punch card, and clearly I will be able to find pet products elsewhere.


But will I find the same friendliness, the willingness to listen to my latest lament about our most recent contact with the emergency vet, or the triumph of coming through what appeared to be the demise but turned into the recovery of our feline super pet? Will the next place offer to carry the 50 pounds of Black Oil birdseed, but be willing to let me carry 40 pounds of dog food if I state that it is my preference? I suppose they will be willing to dispense advice about cat litter, thunder shirts, and the difference between having hamsters or gerbils as pets.


What I have come to realize is that as important a role as variety plays in my everyday life, when it comes to people, it is the continuity and the relationships that I value. I love going to MY bank, MY salon and MY supermarket. To be fair, I do sometimes mix it up in the banking and shopping departments, but still there is home base.


I understand the reasoning, although that, too, makes me unhappy. That larger chains are pushing out the smaller, more personal stores makes me most displeased. Price and efficiency do not hold a candle to personal relationship.


Even the characters who everyone knew about town, walking the streets in all weather, even those people held a place in my heart. Though I had no direct interaction with them, I mourned their passing, because they were our neighbors, our fellow travelers on the block, a part of daily living.


It is a combination of needing the ongoing thread and connection with people that I find so grounding and joy giving that supports my fascination with difference and variety in so many other facets of my life. That, and the fact that (surprise!) I like to choose the changes, not have them happen to me willy nilly. We are unbothered by loud banging noises if we are the ones making the noise, but are incredibly irked by someone else making loud (and unpredictable) sounds. So, too, it is with change. If I choose the change, I’m all good. If it is someone else’s idea, I do not necessarily endorse it.


I suppose if there is nothing I can do to stem the flow of others’ choices, I must accept that this part of my world will shift at others’ behest. I can only hope to see the people from the pet store about town, or support their next venture, which with any luck, will become part of the evolving fabric of MY town.


A Rare Friend Indeed

April 6, 2014

“I will need to take you to every house in the village!” my daughter Gale had declared when we arrived at her small vereda in Colombia, a two hour sweaty hike from the nearest sister enclave. That had sounded like a reasonable but undoable request even before we arrived. I didn’t know how many people this would involve, but I did know that it was not going to be like an end of soccer game moving line of hard slapping “good game, good game, good game.” Each meeting was personal. With only two days and lots of other important things to do, (like removing papayas from their post 15 feet in the air) it could not really even be a reasonable goal to aim for.


The second day we headed up the hill in the three rows of small dwelling that comprise La Union. In the farthest upper left hand corner was a small farm with some donkeys in the yard. Gale peered through the small window into the dimly lit interior. “Allo?” she called out. We headed around to the side where the donkeys were. Jesusa greeted us, and welcomed us inside the gate. She was grinding corn in a large waist high pestle to feed the donkey. “He is not eating,” Gale translated as Jesusa pointed to the donkey. “See how swollen he is here?” She delivered a firm punch to the animal’s lower left neck.”This is not good.” She was clearly worried. “Come inside.” We walked through the densely grown yard filled with low bushes, flowers, parts of equipment and into a small kitchen area with a very low ceiling. It was illuminated by the side we entered from, which was largely open.


In the back was a wood burning stove. She shooed two tiny cats off an upturned log that made a bench and offered us seats and then she retrieved some wood to stoke the fire. The hard packed dirt floor was swept clean, and Jesusa pointed to a small side table with an attached shelf underneath. “See the duck and the chicken asleep there?” I had not even noticed them, so quiet were they in their slumber.


She took some eggs and was busy by the stove as we chatted. How did I like it here? Where is my husband? How is my time here? I labored through my responses, coaxing my high school Spanish into the present. Gale allowed me to wade through, interrupting only when I came out with French, which I frustratingly and consistently retrieved more easily, as I had lived there for six months in college. It had taken root more firmly than the Spanish I was now summoning.


As if by magic she turned around holding two bowls of soup made with what looked like oversize kidney beans, chunks of banana, with a cooked egg on top. I should not have been caught off guard, but I was not expecting a meal. “Aye, muchas, muchas gracias!” I could utter before I tucked into it. We chatted a bit more. Gale’s housemate had arrived as well and was also given soup.


Jesusa turned to face me and look me directly in the eye. Her manner and tone conveyed absolute conviction as she stated, “You do us great honor by visiting us here.” The tears that sprang up instantly hindered my ability to form words. “Oh, Jesusa, no. The honor is mine. Thank you so much. You are so generous.” I am stammering, searching for the right words, which would not have been easy in any language. I am so appreciative of her welcoming me into her home, of welcoming my daughter who is living there for a year, of dropping what she is doing and making us a meal.


As I stutter she hands us chunks of bread. This serves to stymy my attempts at formulating more coherent thoughts and “Oh gracias, ortra vez gracias” (once again, thank you) is as eloquent as I can manage. It is the depth of her sincerity that so moves me, and our connection is unmistakeable. Not only was there a great deal unspoken, but we both know that we have young adult daughters. Without words, she has told me that she appreciates the work my daughter is doing in the village, which ensures the safety of the people there, she appreciates that I have come to visit her, and visit them. She is able to feel my respect for her, for what she is doing.


Even though I know I am taking some license in my assumption, it is perhaps because I cannot understand all the words that the feeling is conveyed even more strongly. In that instant she has greeted me in her world, welcomed me in a way I have not often experienced.



As we get ready to leave she asks when I am going to return. Before coming I had not even entertained the notion of a return trip. With my visit, I am now wondering the same thing. She is not asking out of politeness. She really wants to know. I can only tell her that I have no plans at the moment, but I know that if and when I come back, I have a friend to welcome me.


Living in a Material World

October 4, 2013

I reached into my bag to grab my wallet and pay for the food supplement at the pet store when I realized it wasn’t there. The owner of the store saw my face and said, “Uh-oh. Something not good is happening.” “Oh, NO!” I exclaimed. “I stopped for gas on the way here (15 miles back) from work, and I did something I never do, which is leave my wallet on the top of the car while I pumped gas. I must have driven off with it still there.”

I raced out of the store as I heard her say that she would put the supplement  behind the counter.


I tried to invoke Siri’s help in calling the Hess station where I stopped, but she kept offering me a confounding array of options that I could not review while driving. There was only one number that I tried before tearing out of the parking lot, and no one answered.


I screeched into the Hess lot and dashed inside, explaining what happened. “No, no one has turned in a wallet.” “It’s red!” I cried, as if that made it more turn-in-able. Scanning the lot and the pump I used, I started my trek up the road. There were two guys planting the small hill outside the Longhorn restaurant next door. I repeated my plight. They looked at each other, but neither had seen a red wallet (with the words dum-dum implied on the top).


I marched along the side of the road, sweeping up and around each section of sidewalk and road. The onramp to Route 495 is a large right turning arc and I thought this was a likely place it would fall off. Up the side of this quarter mile of weeds I tromped in my little black dress with tiny white polka dots and my wedge heels. Nothing. When I reached the highway I stood and sighed and then turned around to walk the strip that separated the on and off ramps, hoping a different angle might yield a better result.


A hundred yards down a trooper heading to the highway pulled over. “What are you doin?” His tone was respectful and wary. I embarrassedly told my unfortunate tale. “You aren’t going to walk on the highway, are you?” Something about his tone told me that he had already received a call about some loon trooping around the side of the road. “No, I’m going to get my car and drive on the highway,” I assured him. He seemed satisfied. “Okay, good luck.” And he was off.


I continued my fruitless search and was within 50 yards of the Hess when I spotted a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. “It’s not my wallet, but I’ll take twenty bucks,” I thought. As I bent down to pick it up, I spotted my wallet a few feet away, on the side of the road. There it was, with seemingly nothing else gone! How could I have missed it the first time around? Perhaps a car was driving over it at that moment? Whatever the reason, I breathed deeply and trotted to tell the Hess cashier. Thanking the gods of St. Anthony, or whoever else is responsible for this lovely turn of fate, I sent up a word of thanks for saving not only that afternoon, but countless other hours of replacing licenses, credit cards and precious photos.


Vowing to take more time and turn down the multitasking setting in my brain, I returned to the pet store, home, and the rest of my life. I think about the gift this kind of near miss represents, and want to make sure that I am not just running on. We all make mistakes, and certainly I will never again adorn the roof of my car with my wallet, but I need to really pay attention to where I am and what I am doing. Life in the slightly slower lane promises untold rewards. I’m all for that.


The Pool Frog and Other Late Summer Perils

September 4, 2013


People do not typically consider frogs to be wily animals, but I am here to tell you that coyotes have nothing on these sneaky amphibious creatures. They have taken to gathering in the pool in gangs of eight or ten during the night. Clearly they’re conspiring about evasive maneuvers come morning when I have a limited amount of time to attend to them before heading off to work. They have also worked out that I will not leave any of them in the pool, so they focus on how to distract, fool or outright trick me.


I think this is a late summer specialty when I have less patience with the frog removal detail as the water has become cool and less inviting, so it is no longer about me and my selfish swimming needs, but only about them and their entertainment watching the human race around the pool carrying the big net.


The first tactic is “divide and distract.” Going for two frogs right next to each other with one swoop, they wait until the last second and swim in opposite directions, effectively stymying my pursuit. The next move is the “wait and jump.” They save this for when they are already in the net and then turn and do a swan dive (not easy for a frog) back into the pool. Sometimes they go for the leaf pose, camouflaging themselves with the collected debris at the bottom of the pool. This works more frequently than it should, because we have become lax about vacuuming, thereby allowing for more frog hiding possibilities.


The next technique involves swimming into deep water because they are much more speedy in deep water than I am with my long handled net, dragging it through the water which feels like it has taken on the viscosity of molasses.


I believe their favorite is watching me dash around the pool doing my imitation of the pole vaulter’s dash as I try not to take out any windows or bushes in the process. And all this as I am trying to save them from the chlorinated death trap that is the pool. Some kind of gratitude.


Another late summer bummer for me is the onslaught of mums. I whizzed by some the other day on my bike, and winced, but didn’t think too much about it. The next day as I got out of my car at a farm stand, I was visually assaulted by an entire display of them.

“Aaaaah!” I screamed involuntarily, like a vampire being faced with garlic. There were a couple of guys standing there who looked at me sympathetically. “Yeah, we don’t like them either,” one of them said. “It’s too early!” I cried. August is not for mums which herald the change of seasons.


It’s not that I don’t like fall. In fact, it is my favorite season, and the one in which my husband and I chose to make our wedding vows, but I don’t like to rush summer out the door. Someone told me that she saw Halloween decorations up at someone’s house the other day. I’m hoping that they just never took them down from last year rather than think that they are two months in advance of this holiday. I want to savor the delights that summer has to offer before bidding it adieu.


I suppose that all in all, this means that I should thank the frogs for providing me with the pull back to summer activities, even if they are the only ones doing the swimming.



Stellar Fourth of July Reflections..

July 14, 2013

It had been some years since we were able to view fireworks in person, and we knew this was the year. The weather was clear and warm and we had no competing plans. We headed to the vast parking lots and trotted the mile and half to the park, the last quarter mile or so through the woods lighted by small white lights strung through the trees and powered by generators.


People covered the hill, finishing picnics, listening to the band, while others tossed Frisbees and twirled colored bands of light. The sky darkened, and the boom of the magic of fireworks thrilled the crowd with visions of shimmering golds, spluttering pinks, splashes of green, red and blue against the navy palette. It does not get old, and there were new double and triple patterns that surprised and delighted. It was an evening well spent as we raced back through the woods with the throngs of people trying to get to their vehicles. We thought wistfully of our daughters, now 23 and 18, who were here last as young teens. It was our first time without them, and we were adjusting to this experience.


We recounted our tale of satisfied viewing to my husband’s cousin and family when we traveled to Falmouth the next day to visit. “Oh,” they said. Their experience was nothing like this.


They started down the mile walk to the ocean with their six year old girl and 9 year old boy, gazing at the stars overhead and enjoying the mild evening. Three blocks before they reached the sea they encountered a bank of fog that extended from beach skyward. They walked on, hoping it would lift. Shortly thereafter they heard the boom of the fireworks, and caught sight of a small green spark high in the mist. Ooooh! They began to sense what it would be like to be under attack with the rat-a-tat-tat, whistling, and BAM BAM BAM of the fireworks that were unseen. A sprinkle of pink, fluttered high above. “Oooh! Fairy dust!” their daughter commented.


As they walked down the street, the merriment of twenty-somethings spilled out of the bar. They were singing every Americana song they knew (which was three) at the top of their lungs. A couple of them had seized and wrapped themselves in huge American flags. They were surrounded by mist and accompanied by the battle-like sounds of invisible fireworks going off close by. It could not have resembled a scene from a movie more than this.


The ten year old stared, his eyes shining. “This is COOL!” he declared.


We all have our vision of what is necessary to celebrate this iconic holiday. I am glad to know the possibilities exceeded my imagination. Who knows what we can look forward to next year?!

The Dance of Discovery

June 23, 2013

I attended a dance performance last Friday. Nothing particularly unusual about that. Our family has always enjoyed this medium and we try to attend a couple of performances each year.


I took one of the few remaining seats available and waited for the performance to begin, tucking the bouquet of flowers I had brought under my seat. I noticed a small film crew setting up on the opposite side of the room.


The choreographers came out to talk briefly about what we were about to see. This was a collaboration between the initiator of the project, and the residents of Woodland Pond, with one of them taking the lead in the organization of the project and event. The director explained that the performance was in four parts, and mirrored the stages that people passed through in their introduction, adjustment, acceptance and enjoyment of their time at Woodland Pond, a senior living facility. They believe in a movement called Creative Aging that focuses on the role of the arts in enhancing the quality of life for older adults.


Cue music…Jazz from Larry Adler and Ellis Larkins, and the performance begins with one woman in her wheelchair in the center of the space. Others join her, and sometimes in three groups of three, sometimes all together, they create gestures of welcome, then the approach/avoidance and fear of rejection that one experiences in a new place, followed by the relief of both understanding how it goes and finally the enjoyment of participation and connection with the place and each other. At this point one woman steps forward and sweeps around the U shaped audience scatting, “Shoo boo ba be ba! Doo n doo Wah! Ba bididi be be! Doo Doo Yeah! She exemplified her joy. This was my mom in her element, living her dream, choreographing and performing an original work.


The shapes the group created were varied; at times stretching upward, at others curved around each other, and sometimes linking through and touching hands. In all, three wheelchairs were woven into the piece and the median age of the dances was 85. The oldest dancer was 95, who also happened to be the only male.


Afterward they sat in a line and answered questions from the audience. Some were new to dance, others talked about the challenges they faced in learning the twelve minutes of choreography, the pain in their limbs and joints, and struggles with memory, to say nothing of the competition for practice time with doctor’s appointments and how they were feeling. As of the night before, they would have one less performer who was not feeling up to it.


The theme that traced through their comments and was demonstrated in their performance was their enthusiasm for the project, their new or deepened connection with one another and their desire to do something like it again. Their enthusiasm had caught hold in the audience who started asking how they could be involved, too. I was thrilled to be there, witness to their achievement and appreciating the thought, care and effort that had contributed to this much rehearsed creation.


I can still see them as they finished up, all standing sideways in a line, with their arms extending toward the audience as they shouted “YEAH!”

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