by Gretchen Mead
Founder & Executive Director
Before I begin my letter, I want to thank each and every one of you who participated in our Annual Campaign… We SURPASSED our $25K Goal! This is one wild ride we are on together and sitting pretty.
If you know me well, you probably know that one of my greatest strengths in life is my irreverent sense of humor.I can take moments of emotional seriousness and tension, say the most blatantly inappropriate thing, and for some reason, it makes those experiencing the intense moment take a step back from shame and judgment to have a laugh at themselves for a moment of levity and perspective. It is often disarming for folks. And we all know the putting down of arms is often helpful.
I have (almost always unwittingly at first) used this knack for irreverence to accomplish things. I recall once, at a job interview, the interviewer asked me how I would respond to an adolescent who was escalating emotionally and needed to be calmed down and redirected. Without missing a beat, I said, “I’d tell that little twerp not to get his underwear in a bunch cuz the whole world doesn’t revolve around his little hissy fit.” Yep, I really said that during an interview. There was a moment of awkward silence, followed by the hysterical laughter of my three interviewers. A week later I began working as a counselor at a locked facility for juvenile sex offenders.
More recently though, I have been craving the presence of the serious, gracious and older sister of little brother Irreverence: Reverence.
Recently I had lunch with a 99-year-old man. He was fascinating to me, with his small stature, papery thin skin, and bossy demeanor that was mostly designed to get him from one function to the next.
“I’ll trust you to talk amongst yourselves, until I can get my microphone on to hear,” he gently gruffed, without looking at my face for a reaction. And so we drove to the family restaurant on a Sunday in relative silence, not wanting to exclude him from our conversation even though he had given us permission.
Just as we sat down, he directed the conversation in the way he wanted: “This is what we are going to talk about – tell me about something that changed the direction of your life forever. I’ll go first so you know what I mean. When I was ten, my teacher skipped me a grade ahead, and if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here today having lunch with you. There. Now you go.” This guy was a ponderer.
He said all this without a pause between words, leaving me strapped for time to think of my own example. I wondered if he said it so quickly because he thought he had to get the question out before he no longer could. At 99, surely it must be on the forefront of one’s mind that every word and thought could be one’s last, and one might be inclined to soak it all up with intense absorption.
His twinkling eyes were like a think-o-meter that served as a gauge, revealing his fully-functioning brain waves. As the guests at the table answered his question, his face lit up with enthusiasm for each person’s profound moment. We all looked at him with adoration.
This lunch, perhaps his last, with a 99 year-old man; the act of recalling these life-changing moments; and the very meal itself seemed important. It became rich with substance and meaning. It had layers. On the ride home, the bunch of us processed the meaning of it aloud.
Without intending to, we had created reverence for this man and this day.
This moment, though special and serving as a reminder, is not inimitable. Reverence lives in all things, waiting to be noticed and nourished. It is in our walks walks by the lake, meditations at church, resonance with a powerful piece of poetry, gazes over our sleeping children.
John Milton says, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
But reverence is more than just quietly reflecting on these things. It’s a skill that we can all hone. It’s the soul of true connection and its seedbed is sincerity in action. It is adoration coupled with respectful behavior.
The way we behave at dinner says a lot about how feel about each other, and indeed the very soil and ancestors that we came from through thousands and millions of years of growing, making and breaking bread together. (F$*&ing wheat allergies ruining it. Don’t laugh.)
Last night at dinner, we ate a delicious pea soup.The children barely sat down as they bounced on their chairs, with jokey grins, and loud conversations. It made me cringe the way it makes me cringe when I see a long line of cars at a fast food drive-thru. Tonight and increasingly, I wanted something more from them. I see that my role as a mother is to develop their sense of reverence, and that every meal is an opportunity to do this work—the ritual of eating together and connecting to the all of everything, together, forever and ever amen.
This year, along with the regular resolutions—working out, less sugar blah blah—I resolve to foster reverence. Something tells me that if I succeed, all the other New Year’s goals might resolve themselves.
Before I sign off, I’d like to make special mention that our long-time board member and previous board president has decided to focus on some other life adventures. Becky Grandone has been invaluable to the launching and success of this organization from helping us write our first real business plan to ensuring our employees have health insurance, touching every part of it from the bottom up. Thank you, Becky, for your years of service. Wherever you put your energies, may you find reverence in the New Year. You will be missed.
PS: Look soon for a report about all we have accomplished in 2014 with your dollars and volunteer hours—together!