Category Archives: In the World

Quiet Beauty

When Wandering Takes You Far

I love to wander.  It clears my head.  And it grounds me. 

Recently, I got to wander on the beach in Pacifica.  It was almost 5 p.m. and the box speaker that had been pumping music out across the waves stood silent.  The cove community had scattered – drawn elsewhere by the need to nap or tend to dinner, children, or work-week preparations.

Pulsing

For nearly an hour, the only occupants of this achingly beautiful stretch of shore were me, two crabs and a handful of surprisingly quiet gulls.  I felt staggeringly lucky to be the only one of 7.7 billion humans on planet Earth standing there feeling the waves wash over my feet.

My toes sunk deeper into the sand.  I walked up and down, and back and forth the unusually deserted beach feeling the water pull on the sand beneath my feet.  The owner of the hushed speaker fetched it wordlessly.

When, at last, I perched on a rock to rest, its stockpile of heat rose up through me.  The sun was dropping fast across the waves.  Facing it, filled by it, I sat.  A couple wearing parkas walked across the horizon toward the far end of the beach and to my right, a woman with a “half-full” glass caught my eye and waved.  When I looked back, her husband was sitting beside her holding her hand.

Respite Glow

Now we were five.  I wondered if I should feel lonely or if I had been adrift on the beach too long when the sun, framed by wings of clouds, pulled my gaze back.   

When I finally rose, remnants of light were still washing over us.  I clambered over the rocks toward the row of clapboard houses on stilts.  To my left, a group of neighbors sat laughing as the sun dropped past the horizon at last. 

The next day we would go into the city, stroll through the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park, enjoy a scrumptious lunch at Burma Superstar.  My wandering heart still warm, my soul smiling.

Here’s a 13-second peace break just for you. Enjoy ~

International Women’s Day Appreciations

My favorite holiday — International Women’s Day — seems like the ideal time to uplift and celebrate women who have profoundly impacted my life.  While the full list of women I should celebrate would be much longer, the smart, talented, strong women below are the ones who came to mind this year.

I’ve been blessed to share experiences with Marta Nieves in Omaha, Chicago and India.

Marta Nieves, “my first mentor,”  whose ground-breaking work at UnitedHealthcare of the Midlands gave me a refreshing new view of organizational development and cultural competence.  Her uncomfortable observation that I had been raised to be a “really nice girl” gave me pause and set me on a firmer path toward self-actualization.  Thank you, Marta!

Rosie Tingpalpong worked with Marta and I at UnitedHealthcare of the Midlands.  We also worked side-by-side at the Institute for Career Advancement Needs (ICAN).  Smart, competent and trustworthy, Rosie called me on my tendency to micromanage and was a steadfast mirror as I worked to break this unhelpful habit.

Former Catherine Place directors Sr. Peg Murphy and Judy Mladineo join friends on Catherine’s Place’s front porch to bid farewell to visitors from Maher in India.

Judy Mladineo served as Associate Director and moved to Executive Director during my time at Catherine Place in Tacoma.  She displayed exceptional compassion at every turn and embodied and upheld feminist ideals in her life and in her work in a way I had never experienced.  Her wise, comfortable presence, and collaborative spirit allowed space in which the new — such as Juntas en Transicion and the We-Can & Si, Se Puede Circles — could be born.

Peg Murphy was director of Catherine Place when we began offering the We-Can & Si, Se Puede Circles.  Watching Peg in action is like watching a saintly, seasoned, social services Jedi.  She taught me the power of healthy collaboration, secure community, and faith in action.  In my mind, she’s a big reason why in her words, “Miracles happen every day at Catherine Place.”

Donna Lambdin, founder of Maha Methods, is both teacher and healer.  At her urging, I trained in both Usui and Karuna Reiki.   Time with Donna and members of the healing community she formed cemented my commitment to the health, healing and well-being of myself, others, and the earth.

The work of Maher Founder Sr. Lucy Kurien and Maher Board Chair Hirabegum Mulla brings hope, wisdom and joy to people in India and around the world.

Sr. Lucy Kurien had been leading Maher in India for 13 years when our daughter and I arrived at the organization’s unpretentious office in June 2010.  She has been a great teacher for me in overcoming loss, perseverance in extreme adversity and compassion.  I marvel at Sr. Lucy’s elegant ability to unwind complex human dramas in a way that preserves dignity.  Her creation of the Interfaith Association for Service to Humanity and Nature exactly 20 years after Maher’s  inspires me to “think big” and “hold fast to my vision.”

Hirabegum MullaMaher’s board chair, is my favorite person to ride through the teeming streets of Pune, India with at the end of a long day.  Her infectious laugh fills all around her with pure joy and she sees and holds life’s humor and sorrow with candor and grace.  Observing Hira taught me much about how to support and collaborate with visionaries committed to models and methods that produce life-affirming change.

Zumbir and I Celebrating Maher’s 20th Anniversary

Zumbir, an experienced Maher housemother,  effortlessly managed a home with 23 children and one U.S. visitor (me) during my three-month stay.  Capable, positive and strong, she dramatically increased my understanding of what it means to live in community.

Our daughters and my Mom when Lynne received her doctorate degree.

My mother, Pat Helmke, and our daughters, Lynne Clure and Cara Clure.  My mother gave her love, her feedback and devoted tens of thousands of hours to my success.  Our daughters remain the greatest gifts and most powerful teachers in my life.

Hungry for a Healthy, Peaceful Planet

The pomegranate tree our daughter and I ate lunch beneath on a journey celebrating completion of her Ph.D.

Mary Beard’s book Women & Power:  A Manifesto skillfully traces women’s lack of voice and power in society from ancient Greece to today.  She makes the case powerfully enough that her unsettling questions began rattling around in my sleep — stoking my deep longing to live in a verdant, nurturing world that honors and affirms women, the earth, and dare I say it? Peace.

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised a few days later when my hair was metaphorically “set on fire” by an innocent-enough looking plaque at the Chicago Botanic Garden Orchid Show.  The culprit.  None other than the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius.  The offense.  Comparing “Ian, the Chinese word for orchid to the ideal man, ‘chun-tzu'” and claiming orchids the “king of fragrant plants.”  Of course, I thought, orchids would give him cause to celebrate the ideal man.

The information plaque that raised my ire.

Mary’s 104-page volume is comprised of two lectures and supporting photographs.  While her examples are compelling, I doubt the book would have kept me awake at night had it focused solely on documenting the ways women’s power has been subverted and thwarted.  Wisely, she pushes the conversation forward; posing hard and uncommonly asked questions about women and power.  Like a compass, her questions all led me at 2 a.m. to a single true north question.  “What kind of world do I wish to live in?”

A butterfly our youngest daughter and I marveled at during an afternoon break from her med school studies.

This is not the first time this discomforting question has stalked me.  In 2006, I embarked on The Berkana Institute’s first and only learning journey to India.  I was well aware then that, despite my privilege, the world I was living in wasn’t to my liking.  I had become disillusioned after years of watching an uncanny number of women, including myself, overextend and overcompensate to fit into structures and systems we were having little, if any, influence in shaping, leading or changing.  I believed that as a highly educated society we could do better.  But how?

Living the question of “the world I wish to live in” took me to back to India in 2010, 2016, and 2017 and prompted a move to the Pacific Northwest from 2006 to 2014.  Happily, my quest took me places that didn’t require training to lower the timber of my voice or “to handbag” anyone, tactics Mary describes Margaret Thatcher employing in her rise and exercise of power.  Rather, it afforded me and others plenty of opportunities to redefine leadership, a process Mary sees as vital if women are to thrive.

A garden sculpture our daughter and I discovered while she was completing her internship in Memphis.

Today, two of my most frequent destinations remain movements constructed by women in the past 25 years – structures that “are not already coded as male” in Mary’s words and that don’t require male genitalia to be heard or to rise to the top.  These are not spaces where men appear at the center of every universe and they require neither monster budgets or posh headquarters to prove their worth.  In these revolutionary spaces, women are leading and all people — women, children, men, the poor, the most vulnerable — are respected, affirmed and encouraged to find and offer the gift of her or his leadership.

A 2016 Tacoma gathering to welcome Sr. Lucy Kurien, founder & director of Maher in India, back for her 4th visit.

I would believe such destinations Utopian in a “power over” world had I not spent a great deal of time observing, working and learning with their bold founders.  Creating frameworks outside of predominant structures is difficult, messy work.  Mistakes are made. However, these innovative organizations acknowledge and value the wisdom gleaned from missteps.  Freed from the astonishing weight and bondage of perfection and the eternal energy drain of having to fit in and constantly prove and re-prove their worth, women in these powerful organizations can fly like legendary Phoenixes to new heights — their own.

Reading Mary’s manifesto a second time cleared my head and my sleep.  In the Afterword, she finds hope in movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.  Still, like many women, she knows that a 6,000+ year old imbalance of power is no easy tower to topple.  Certainly, it will take a critical mass.  Reading this small but mighty book felt an awful lot like pouring fuel on a fire.  Maybe for now we just need a whole lot more fire.