the other trail
I think it was around November of 2007 when my friend Kira asked me if I was going to go see Judith Snow speak in Cincinnati. I had received an email invite from someone else, and didn’t really know much about Judith Snow, but Kira’s invitation was enough for me to go.
When I arrived, I met up with Kira, who had a couple of VERY crowded plates of hors d’oeuvres. (She and I share a tremendous love of snacks and tease each other that we’re always meeting up at places where free food is offered!) After hugs and catching up, she led me to our seats, which she had been saving.
The first thing that struck me when I walked in to the room where Judith was going to present was that it was in chaos. There weren’t nice orderly rows of chairs facing a podium or stage. There were about 20 circles of 6 or so chairs. This most certainly did not look like any presentation I’d ever been to. I sat down in the circle next to Kira and we chatted for a bit with each other and greeted the other people in the circle. The first person I met in our small group was Jo Krippenstapel. I’d been introduced to her one other time by one of Starfire’s Board members, Diana Mairose, but knew little else about her.
About 5 minutes before Judith was scheduled to start, Kira tells me she’s leaving, as she has another appointment to get to. (I still give her a hard time about that one. I mean, I’m all about the free snacks, but I always stick around for at least a part of the presentation before jetting!) So here I am, in the middle of these circles, uncomfortably facing people I hardly know, and the worst part is that Kira had picked the circle directly next to where Judith would present that evening. There is a video taken of that night out there somewhere, and I think I’m probably in 90% of it just because of how close I was. I’m not kidding…I was practically sitting in Judith’s lap!
Judith was introduced by John McKnight, who was introduced by Peter Block, who invited an a cappella hiphop group to get us started. I think they made us get up and sing along, which only added to my discomfort.
I don’t remember a ton about Judith’s message that night. She talked about considering gifts, instead of disability, and she talked about how differences can be a positive, rather than a negative. The main thing I remember was feeling out of the ordinary…everything felt different that night: the setup, the introductions, and of course, the ideas.
Going that night was one the most important decisions I’ve ever made, because it was my first step along the trail of learning what this work is truly about. Before that night, I was trapped in the awful bliss of simple charity and the grind of professionalism.
As I look back on it, I can clearly see how Kira’s invitation launched me on a new path. All of the principle instigators were there that night: I started reading things by Judith, Peter and John, and have learned so much from Jo since then. They have turned me on to others and helped me understand that this effort isn’t what I thought it was. It’s much much bigger and way more important that I ever imagined.
I wonder what my work and life would be like if I’d declined Kira’s invitation that night. I imagine I’d have found my way here eventually, but I feel blessed and privileged to have discovered this Other Trail. It’s made life more full and interesting.
I’ve gotten to see Judith speak again since that night, and she introduced the term “Syncopated Transition,” which is beautiful. I’ll write more on that later, but today is for considering the impact of invitations and their acceptance.
I find it funny that I now get frustrated when I sit in traditional presentations in rows of chairs. I find myself speaking up and commenting and trying to shake things up a bit. I wish every meeting involved more stories, conversations on ideas and sharing experiences. I get annoyed with pre-scripted messages or agendas these days…regardless of the quality of snacks.
Thanks a lot, Kira.