On February 22 of this year the email program on my desk top simply went on strike… or retired … or died. It refused to send or receive, or to let me into the dozens of folders where I store emails – both personal and professional. I receive about 75 emails a day and the frightening thing is that usually 30-40 of them are relevant and need to be read and/or responded to. I also daily dig into the folders to remind myself of recent correspondence with a client, to retrieve an attachment I need, or to enjoy a memorable message from a grandson. I was eager to get the problem fixed. My always cheerful computer guy came in a few days and installed himself in my desk chair. He emerged an hour later.
“Is it fixed?” I am eager to settle in and catch up.
He hesitates, “No, not yet.” He is packing up to go. “I need to think about it.”
“Oh? Think about it?” I have never considered computer repair to be in the “thoughtful” fields, like philosophy. But what do I know? Clearly nothing.
“Yeah, just need to think about it.” He flashes a big smile and leaves.
In a week or so he was back. “Did you think about it?” I asked hopefully.
“Uh-huh,” and he smiled another big one.
He took his place in front of the thought-provoking machine. I explained that actually the biggest problem was that I needed to be able to access those old folders. “That’s what I really care about. I can always install another email program to send and receive,” and I left him.
You know how some movies have out takes at the end? The hero misses the punch and jams his hand into a bowl of fruit. The kissing scene is interrupted by a giant moth who wants in on the action. Or, lines are flubbed again, and again, until everyone dissolves in laughter. I love those scenes. They show us a glimpse of reality, what it is really like to make a movie. And they show us that these are just human beings doing a job, however imperfectly. That got me thinking about my profession – mediation and facilitation – and out takes that I could show at the end of the movie titled, “Lucy Saves the Day,” or “Mediators: Warriors for Peace” or … well, you get the idea. So, I’ll spare you the movie, and just give you the out takes, moments from my decades of practice that make me smile.
“Hmmm…where is that place?” – I was facilitating a meeting for the Forest Service in northern New Mexico. About a dozen very rural, somewhat eccentric community members were standing in front of a wall- sized map of their local national forest. The Forest Service staff were there hoping to find out how and where local people used the forest. I was proud of this interactive tool, primitive by today’s standards but in the 1980s quite a novelty. I asked people to come forward, take a marker and indicate on the map the spots where they fished, cut wood, hiked, hunted, etc. There were different colored markers for different kinds of uses. The maps were covered with clear plastic, so they could erase and re-draw if they needed to. No one wanted to break the ice, or make the first mark. I was worried my great innovation was a flop. I saw an aging hippie woman, spilling out of her bib overalls and with a head of wild gray hair, staring at the map for a long time, the marker dangling in her hand. I encouraged her. “Do you want to put something up there, some forest use?” I asked innocently. “Well,” she said dreamily, “I’m just trying to remember…a long time ago… where it was that I laid that man at….” I suggested we could call that “recreational use” and she marked the spot.
I was doing laundry when I heard a raven squawking with an urgency I had never heard. We have many ravens in the neighborhood, and they are big talkers, but this message was a new one. I went to the window and saw it on a low branch about eye level. It was scolding, cursing, berating, reading the riot act to someone or something on the ground, head lunging forwarding, eye laser-focused. A snake, I thought. That is my fallback threat, so I cautiously headed for the back door to get a better look. As I approached, I saw the door was already ajar and stepped outside. The raven was raising a ruckus because our black indoor cat Bennie had escaped and was on the ground below the raven. He was hunched close to the ground, ears back, taking his scolding. I was struck by the two solid black creatures in relationship. Bennie had been headed for the fence, on the other side of which were coyotes, hawks, snakes, and more, and the raven had turned him back. He scurried back into the house and the crisis was over.
I know that ravens and crows, the whole corvid family of birds, are really smart. They can perform intricate tasks, they can recognize humans and keep track of their doings. There are fascinating stories in the research literature of ravens and crows that have returned lost items to the right person, have created tools to retrieve food, and have passed on information about dangerous people (like lab scientists on a university campus) to their offspring and their offspring. And apparently they know when a cat belongs in the house and not outside, and how to effectuate getting the cat back inside. There is no doubt in my mind that the bird was stopping Bennie in his tracks and alerting me to come and retrieve the escapee. I thanked it profusely, and I believe it understood.
A few months ago I facilitated a six-day Tribal Wetlands Workshop on zoom. Participants were tribal leaders, staff and members who were involved in protecting and maintaining tribal wetlands. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized the workshop and a colleague and I were under contract to plan and facilitate the event. We worked with a planning team of both EPA and Native American representatives to make sure that the workshop met a variety of goals: teach methods and strategies for managing wetlands, provide opportunities for tribes to collaborate and learn from each other, and highlight the cultural, spiritual, social and economic values of wetlands for tribal communities. The workshop was packed with great presentations on a wide range of topics and there was time for questions and discussion among the 40-50 participants as well. All in all it was a success, but as is often the case, what I remember most vividly is a moment of facilitation crisis. This is how it unfolded.
Almost all gatherings with tribal participants that I facilitate – in person or on zoom — begin with a prayer from a tribal elder. I learned long ago that this brings calm and a sense of community to whatever discussion follows. It also seems to balance the power in the room. The non-Indian professionals who might be perceived as the more powerful ones at the table are humbled by a prayer in a language they don’t understand, invoking powers that clearly overshadow those on earth. I enjoy those moments and appreciate the tribal elder’s message that points us in the direction of a productive, respectful day.
I facilitated my first in person meeting recently. After all these months of zoom it was exciting and a little challenging to get dressed, especially the lower half. It was a beautiful warm day and I knew I would be home mid-afternoon so I picked a blouse and jacket, slacks and low heeled shoes. The meeting went well, and I headed home in a good mood. It was not to last.
I found my regular route home blocked by a police barricade. My plea to let me go home was met with a shake of the head and a wave of the hand to go back. I tried a different approach via the interstate. Blocked as well. My plea on deaf ears. I called my husband and asked him to get on his phone and see if there was any news. I was too busy making u-turns and running into more road blocks.
“Someone kidnapped a woman and drove the wrong way on the Interstate and caused a big accident. The guy escaped and they’re looking for him.” The spot on the Interstate was a mile from our house.
I am a child of the 1950s, the “cold war” era. It was a schizophrenic time, characterized by tuna casseroles, new kitchen appliances and happy suburban families on the one hand, and on the other hand, bomb shelters, duck and cover drills in elementary school, and lurid propaganda about the threats of attack from the Soviet Union.
It’s no wonder, then, that around 7 years old I took this schizophrenia and created a recurring nightmare for myself: I am outside and I look up. I see tiny black specks in the air, and I hear the sound of war planes – the same sight and sound from the newsreels on our first television. They are coming closer. I see their bay doors open. Bombs are dropping out, plummeting toward my city, my neighborhood, my house. I run inside. “Mommy, mommy, the Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” I cry in a panic. She turns from the kitchen sink, smiles and says brightly, “Well, then, I better devil some eggs.” I try to explain they are not coming to visit, they are dropping bombs – I saw them! — but by now she has the refrigerator door open and is reaching for the egg carton. I give up… and wake up, in a sweat.
Clearly I realized that I had been born into a very large, very scary world. On television, in magazines, and at the movies, I saw soldiers in fox holes, shooting guns, smoking cigarettes; planes taking off from aircraft carriers; rockets exploding and bombs dropping out of planes; and the ruin left behind, crying children, dirt-caked faces streaked with tears. I heard ominous voices reporting the evils of communism. These threats seemed both very far away and very close. At school we had always had two drills — for fire and earthquakes — and now we had a third, called an air raid drill. We all knew it was for when the Russians dropped bombs, and some of us had little faith that lying face down in the hall with our heads under the long row of water fountains was going to save us. We girls were allowed an extra protection. We could cover the backs of our bare legs with our coats.
And yet life went on in my quiet Seattle neighborhood, where we kids had adventures. We rode our bikes in the alley, built forts, created clubs with elaborate rules, organized parades in honor of whatever — like the end of school, or 4th of July, or our pets, or our bikes themselves, festooned with crepe paper, playing cards in the spokes, etc. We walked to school, many blocks by ourselves, discussing the big questions like the ones posed by the saying “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” which we feared might be true. As we hopped over the cracks we mused, if you step on a crack will you really break your mother’s back, and just how would that work, and would she know that you did it, and would you get in trouble, and why wasn’t there an instruction about how to make her back well again?
And now in 2022 here I am again. The Russians are coming. They are devastating Ukraine, and Putin is talking nuclear. I have some of the same disconnect and fear I had in the 1950s. That second grader who was worried that her coat wasn’t big enough to cover her bare legs still lives within me. The images are no longer in grainy black and white on a primitive TV screen; they are in color, on the nightly news, all day on the 24 hour channels, in the morning paper, in email blasts from those offering ways to help the refugees, or from those who just need to share their panic. Unlike the second grader me, I can understand the horrors of this situation and the potentially devastating aftermath. But also, the grown up me can find inspiration and a shred of hope in the protests happening within Russia and in the outpouring of support for the refugees.
I close with a report (below) that filled my heart. It is from Moldova, a tiny republic on the Ukraine border. Let’s hang onto these images of good people doing good things, and hope that we may be able to support these efforts in our own way. This is not a time to devil eggs.
From Graeme Innes, in Moldova:
I am unspeakably proud of Moldova and the Moldovan people today! An unimaginable crisis has brought out the very best of this people.
Moldovans have been bravely driving to the very edge of a war zone to collect those in need of help. Ordinary Moldovans and churches have been opening their doors en masse to our beloved Ukrainian neighbours. It is remarkable that, given the chaos, an extraordinarily well-organised system has been run in finding homes for families. In a matter of hours I have received several thousand messages over Viber and Facebook from those who are coordinating the support efforts.
Convoys of taxi drivers have been leading Ukrainian families to their places to stay. There have been donations of everything imaginable to help out those who could only bring a few belongings with them.
I have never been so honoured to live amongst the Moldovan people.
So many people around the world feel so helpless in the face of such an unfolding humanitarian disaster, well today, a little known country (that has barely been mentioned in the news reports) has stepped up. Moldova, you have done the world proud!
For the last 10 days I have been immersed in the medical world. Roberto had a total replacement of his right knee, and given the state of hospitals these days, they sent him home that same afternoon. From that moment he was mine. We went home with bags of supplies – six different pills, two of them opioids, two kinds of dressings, ace bandages, compression stockings, syringes, alcohol swabs, waterproof pads, two styles of ice packs, elastic straps with the strongest Velcro I have ever met, plastic containers of various sizes and shapes, including the one for disposal of used hypodermic needles – and sheaves of instructions for patient care and an equal number of warnings about what could go wrong.
Having been through the trials of 2021 with the rest of you I am in need of hope and comfort. In normal times, at the beginning of a new year I would visit a Pueblo feast day, where the sight of the dancers, the sound of the drums, the smell of the pinon fires and the taste of the red chili stew would give me all I yearned for. Covid has made that impossible, and much as I miss the experience, the Pueblo people are, of course, suffering most from the loss of this crucial cultural practice. I know they have ways of keeping the thread in tact and trust that in coming years we will be able to return to the feast days. As a way of virtually offering the experience, I am re-posting my entry from January 2017, another moment when hope and comfort were badly needed.
If you are lucky enough to be a New Mexican you will probably grasp this immediately. If you are from elsewhere and have never had the chance to spend a few hours at a Pueblo feast day, let me introduce you to something very special.
Pueblo culture and religion run deep. In New Mexico, each of the pueblos has certain days of the year they celebrate. It may be to honor a patron saint, a time of harvest, or something that we non-pueblos don’t need to know about. A feast day includes traditional dancing in the morning and afternoon with a break in the middle when the dancers and cultural leaders retreat to the kiva and observers retreat to someone’s house for one of the best meals you will ever have. I find myself reluctant to say more for fear that hordes from around the country will come flocking and ruin the experience.
But actually that can’t happen. Because whatever happens in the outside world makes no difference on feast day. The dances are the dances, the same as they were 100 or 1,000 years ago. The hospitality and generosity are unchanged. The meals today may include jello and cupcakes with pink frosting, but the beans, the corn, the squash, the green chile and red chile stews, and the oven bread are all the same.
There have been periods in the past, where invaders forced pueblo people to move for protection to high mesa tops, or to hide in canyons far from home. And there have been “episodes” in more modern times where guests have acted badly, broken rules, taken photos or made recordings, and the pueblo has closed its ceremonies to outsiders for a few years. But no matter where they are or what the circumstances the pueblos continue to dance and pray for all living things.
Recently we went to two feast days – a King’s Day celebration at Isleta Pueblo south of Albuquerque on a Sunday, and the next day a deer dance at San Ildefonso Pueblo north of Santa Fe. We had friends at each pueblo so we were guaranteed full and happy stomachs. But we took away so much more. As we listened to the drumming and chanting and watched the dancers, from toddlers to great grandmas and grandpas, I was struck by the fact that this community had been honoring this day in this way for hundreds of years before I was standing there, and that they would be dancing the same dance to the same drumming hundreds of years from now.
Of course things change and probably a key to the survival of this culture is the ability to absorb the jello and pink frosting (and kale salad and broccoli buds, by the way) and continue on. The cultures have survived because of their ability to be flexible where it doesn’t matter and hold the line where it is important. The ritual is the same, the details different. Some costumes may have ribbons or sequins among the shells and feathers, and there may be Velcro hidden here and there. But the fundamental core is there, unchanged and as persistent as the drumming. All generations are participating; some dancing, some cooking, some bringing food to distribute to the dancers and their families, some watching in lawn chairs.
I took great comfort as I stood and watched the dances. The clear blue sky framed the adobe-brown buildings of the pueblo. The sound of the drums and the voices of the singers, guided the soft shuffling of moccasins on the hard-packed dirt. The dancers, whether four years old or ninety four years old, had the same expressions — calm and focused, somehow in the past, the present and the future all at the same time. The smell of fires and simmering stews, and the feel of the winter air, briefly warm and then turning crisp as the sun dropped toward the horizon — all of this was as it had always been and always will be. I was grateful to be there on those two days, a guest in a culture that survives with grace and persistence, rising above whatever may be happening elsewhere, digging deep and continuing on.
At the exact moment that I decided to get a booster, so did everyone else in Santa Fe. Just as happened with the first and second vaccines, I hit the market at the peak and was shut out everywhere I tried. So, this time I opted to make an appointment in Las Vegas, NM, about an hour drive east. Roberto and I arrived at the pharmacy and I took my spot in line. Eventually a pleasant woman called me into a storage room that was doubling as a shot dispensary. I sat facing stacks of toilet paper, a variety of walkers, and cartons of medical supplies. She asked which arm, I said “left, please,” and rolled up my sleeve. As she squeezed my upper arm for the shot, I turned my head and looked away. I felt the alcohol swipe and prepared myself for the jab.
Almost immediately she let go of my arm. I whirled around. I had felt nothing, not a breaking of the skin, not the flow of the vaccine, nothing. I looked at my arm, no band aid, no prick mark from a needle. “What? You didn’t do it?” I stammered.
She smiled. “It’s done. You’re good to go.”
“But I felt nothing, I mean nothing, and it was so fast, too fast…”
Some of the most rewarding work I do is with my dear friends and colleagues Roberto Chene and Nadine Tafoya. Together we are a multicultural team ready to spring into action to rescue poor White organizations struggling with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Imagine superheroes, at a moment’s notice, tackling the deepest historical trauma, the most entrenched implicit bias, cross-cultural miscommunication of epic proportions, all in a single workshop! A ridiculous image, but on a good day it can feel like that.
An Hispano and a native New Mexican, Roberto is a consultant and trainer specializing in helping non-profits, agencies, and others who are struggling to create and sustain intercultural workplaces. He is a genius at delivering difficult messages about systemic racism, internalized oppression, and all the other loaded themes at the core of so much conflict and angst today. Nadine is a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe in southern New Mexico and lives at Santa Clara Pueblo, her husband’s pueblo north of Santa Fe. She is a health consultant working with federal and state agencies, universities, and local groups to improve behavioral health service delivery to Native communities. This means constant attention to the dynamics between the powerful and those in need. She walks this tightrope with skill, diplomacy and fearless honesty.
I am so proud to partner with these two superheroes to consult and offer workshops on building successful intercultural workplaces. I can offer a White perspective, often an uncomfortable place for me to be. Each of us brings history to the team – personal and cultural – and each of us must be honest with ourselves and others about these histories and how they impact us. Nadine, Roberto and I have worked together for decades and have helped each other build skills and gain insights that make us able – even eager — to do this work that might seem like torture for many. For us, our mutual appreciation and respect, as well as the deep affection we hold for each other, carries us through.