Tag Archives: connection

Come Together…Right Now.

community linking hands_136056599There have been two events in the last week that have brought deep calm and hope to me where I didn’t know hope was missing.  I hadn’t realized how much the news had been weighing on me. I’ve felt a responsibility to watch it, read it, try to understand it– but I think that the current state of this country has been breaking me down from the inside out.  Hard.  And I now know I’m not alone.

For the most part, I keep my political orientation to myself, but I realized this week, that the breakdown I’ve been feeling transcends partisan opinions or beliefs.  It is a deep wound of disorientation.  Of assault on what I believe is the basic goodness of people in general and leaders in specific.  And I see now that our collective is feeling it to the bone.  Bone on bone.  Late night TV isn’t even that funny.  I watch it as a nightly relief, and yes I laugh…but lately, I sort of want to cry at the jokes too.  I feel…despair.

I’m a bucker-upper.  A glass-half-full kinda gal.  A this-too-shall-pass person.  So this despair thing is something new and I dearly and desperately don’t want it to become my new normalIn this last week of hope, I’ve realized that I want to/need to feel like I belong to something that is a firmament of integrity and goodness.  I need to trust-fall into that firmament and know it will catch me and hold me and let me give it my faith.

That happened to me this week.  Twice.  I want to share a bit of it with you so that you know, in case you’ve forgotten, that it’s possible.  But it doesn’t happen by accident.

Hope #1 (not in this order)

I spent the morning of December 5th like many of us did:  watching the George H. W. Bush memorial service.  Politics aside, the sum of its parts blind-sided me with overwhelming sobbing.  Reverie.  A deep internal bowing.

I couldn’t stop it.  I didn’t want to stop it.  There was a fierce intuitive understanding that I needed to cry those tears.  Watching that grief-struck family in that hallowed American hall, with those old hymns and military overtures, those speeches and the appropriate laude and honor…it was clear to me that we were mourning a good man.  The man that was being mourned and honored represents something that I hold dear, and that is the importance of a strong, good, leader who loved his wife, his family, his country, and who believed in kindness and even gentleness.  Who came from an era of loyal patriots that didn’t whine or blame or boast or spew morass.

It brought me back to the rooting of my childhood when I stood in church next to my father and harmonized on hymns and held his liver-spotted hand and played with his soft blue veins and looked at his high white thumb moons and knew that he was the gentleman he was because of his hard work, his WW II pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps way of showing up, his values, his ethics, his common decency, his dedication to his family, his job, his community, his fellow human.  I hear his “Shoulders back, Munson” every day, especially when I need courage.

I believed in those things because of him and the other class-act gentlemen I was raised with from that era.  I cried because I miss them.  They’re dying off.  And in this daily incineration of our hearts by the nightly news…I just want to believe in our country and feel like I can trust-fall into it like I did even then, again, politics aside.  Watching that funeral, I realized that I have never felt more vulnerable and heart- sick as an American, than I do right now.  I long for unity.  I have never seen such division and while I try not to focus on it, how can you not feel its corrosion of the collective?  It’s everywhere.  Remember Hands Across America?  I want to link arms, whatever is your politics, and be good together.  I believe in our central goodness.  My father did too.  He raised me to believe in it, to look for it, to be it.

As I watched those speeches and listened to the Episcopal liturgy of my youth, the bible verses and hymns, I wept.  Sobbed.  Smiled through tears.  One of my very favorites:  O God, our help in ages past.  I sang/hummed along to every verse of it.  I cried at the soprano descants.  The altos grounding it.  But mostly I cried because I saw a family there, grieving their legendary patriarch.  And giving us our own grief to mourn as patriots.  Not divided.  For a few hours, I forgot who our president is, what crazed gun-slinging madman or natural disaster has just devastated a community.  We were crying good tears.  Together.  And I believe that we were grieving not just a man, but our unity.

Tom Brokaw said it so well, holding back tears, just after the service:

“I’ve never seen one that had such an important message that was so far reaching. It was an Episcopalian ceremony with an ecumenical message.  And the message was about faith and hope, but family and values.  About dedication to, not just your family, but your country as well.  And to know WHEN you have to cross the aisle and pull together.

…I think for a lot of people this was a distillation of a message that we all need to hear.  …We ought to be thinking about the message that we heard here today.”

Hope #2

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I also felt that trust-fall into hope in a home in Palm Springs, CA last week, in celebration of two wildly talented women:  an author, and a musician, brought together by an Emmy award winning journalist.  They were having dinner one night, and they decided to celebrate with an intentional gathering of kindreds.  We came from all over—fifty women.  We came with our hearts in our hands, and we came without wanting things from one another, other than community, inspiration, and loving connection.

We were welcomed with the invitation to put down our phones and connect with one another, have those conversations that we all need to be having, in person, looking into each others’ eyes.  We were promised that each person was specially chosen to be at this celebration and that as a result, we were with kindred sisters.

I put any residual adolescent PTSD aside and spent the day trust-falling into each circle of women, and like-wise, holding them as they trust-fell into my circles.  It was an Us Us.  All day.  Hiking through Indian Canyon, eating delicious food, hanging by the pool and hot tub, and all the way through to dress-up evening clothes, and Happy Birthday, and for some of us, late night shenanigans.

Every single one of these women felt like an immediate sister to me.  We all knew that we are highly sensitive people, prone to high-octane empathy and sometimes overwhelm, and we did it anyway.  We trusted each other and we told each other our stories and we tried to find meaning and hope in what feels so painful in our national collective– though we spoke less about that pain, and more about the hope.  And we freaking laughed and played like fifty of the best playmates you may or may not have had as a child.  Or in high school.  Or college.  Or even with your current friends.  But we didn’t talk about what we didn’t have.  We talked about how we wanted more of this!

At one point, I turned to a writer friend who has done my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, our toes wiggling in the warm pool like little girls, and I said, “We are all fluent in this language.  And yet we so rarely speak it.”  She nodded, smiling, and said, “Write that down.”  Which is what I am constantly saying at Haven.  It was so nice to be told it!   So I did, and here it is.  Let’s memorize it.  We are all fluent in this language of connection, and yet we so rarely speak it.  It really is…our Mother tongue.

By the end of the evening, all of us sitting on the floor, eating, laughing, throwing out our arms or putting our palms together as we shared our truth, sometimes touching without meaning to and not apologizing for it, like one organism, moving our appendages in an alchemistic equilibrium, our hostess stood up and called out:  “Shall we meet again next year?!”  And we all hooted and hollered, “YES!”

I kept finding myself saying, “I’m so happy.  I haven’t been happy like this in a long long time.”  It was a surprise because I’m happily with groups of women all the time.  But ‘tis true that we need to receive as much as we give, to make a whole, effective person, and a whole effective heart.

So there it is:  we’re STARVED for connection.  LOVING, supportive, raw and real…connection.  I know this as the author of a memoir, and as the leader of retreats because I hear over and over again messages of gratitude for helping people know that they’re not alone.  But I didn’t realize that I’ve forgotten this as a woman, away from a leadership position.  Everyone in that room is in a leadership role in her life.  And everyone in that room was happy to leave it for the day.  I was so happy not to lead.  To listen and take it all in, and say things in a way that doesn’t have to be quotable or learnable or teachable.  Just to truly…let it all hang out.  Let it all fall back.  Not lean in.  Fall back…in trust and true connection with no agenda except for the hope of feeling known and knowing with our empathy as our guide.

So what I know of hope right now, is the feeling of falling into it and trusting that there are people who can hold you, just as you promise to hold them.  In total health and harmony, heart, and yes hope.  A more kind and more gentle nation…indeed.

I want to thank the women for taking their dinner trio think tank/love-fest, fifty-fold.  I want to thank the nation for stopping this week for a few hours to feel unified.  I want to thank you for reading this and for picking up your lone hand and placing it in the palm of another’s.  We can do this…together.  We have to.  No choice.  We are the UNITED States of America, after all.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info.

March 20-24 (only one spot left)
May 8-12 (ah, the sweet month of May in Montana…darling buds and all.)
June 12-16 (great time of year for teachers. Time to fill YOUR cup!)
June 26-30 (ditto)
Sept 18-22 (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)
Sept 25-29 (ditto)

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***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) may have a spot. Email me for more info:  laura@lauramunson.com

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Long Ago: Community Entry #26

May we open ourselves to the gift of self-expression with empathy and courage.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I HAPPY, by Ani Bell

You like me a lot.

That’s what Brian (pronounced Bree-ahnsaid to me on New Year’s Eve, nearly nine years ago. We were salsa dancing at an outdoor club in Samara –a hard-to-get-to coastal town on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. 

You like me a lot.

Hands on my hips, smile on his lips, a direct gaze connecting his brown eyes to my blue.

You like me a lot.

I was — for once — speechless. A confident, strong, thirty-eight-year-old woman – yet a twenty-three-year-old Tico rendered me unable to connect two articulate words together. 

You like me a lot.

I felt I’d landed the leading role in a silent remake of ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

You like me a lot.

His words were cool water splashing my face, electricity shock-coursing through my veins. I was stunned. I’d never encountered a man so self-assured, so straightforward, so bold. Or so right. It was true. I liked him a lot.

Once I could breathe again, I managed a chuckle, looked into his eyes. Si,’ I mumbled — proving my continued inability to construct a sentence. Just as well. The instant the acknowledgment left my lips, Brian’s came to meet them. And meet them. And meet them. And meet them. His friends stopped dancing to watch. 

Thus began one of the greatest love affairs – & most unexpected learning lessons — of my life.

Five minutes after that incredible kiss, worry set in. Mi dios!  What was I THINKING?! A twenty-three-year-old?! Seriously — besides thatSure, Brian was exotic & smoldering & sexy & had a head of long, crazy-curly hair any supermodel would covet. But he was twenty-threeWhat — besides a sweet-hot tropical fling — could he bring into my life? He was twenty-threeWhat — besides how to speak Tico-slang — could he teach me? He was twenty-threeWhat — besides sweaty-steamy-beach-sex — could he do for me? Did I mention he was twenty-three?

Being so close to the equator, I can plead heat-induced dementia. Being on vacation, I can plead being-on-vacation. Being single & thirty-eight (& no dummy), I can plead sweaty-steamy-beach-sex. 

At the time, I probably did plead those things, & I’m sure What-Happens-In-Samara-Stays-In-Samara occurred to me more than once whilst considering the pros & cons of a romance with Brian.

But the real reason I said, ‘Si’, was because I felt a connection to him that surpassed sex –even the sweaty-steamy-beach variety. I felt a connection that circumvented language & cultural barriers. I felt a connection that magically transformed the fifteen years between us to mere seconds. I felt a connection I couldn’t explain. But he could.

The night we first kissed, walking home along a deserted stretch of beach, I asked, ‘Por que`?  Why me?’ I hadn’t yet made peace with a holiday dalliance, especially one involving a markedly younger man. Brian stopped walking, took my hands in his.  ‘You have big energy,’ he said. Well, I silently mused, THAT’S original!  I thought I’d heard every pick-up line in the book, but this one certainly takes the tortilla.

Instead of attempting to translate cynicism into Spanish, I opted for confusion. No entiendo.  I don’t know what you mean.’ ‘Big energy,’ he repeated.  ‘You have big energy. First I see you, I say my friends — I marry that woman.’

‘Marry?’ I squawked. ‘No.  No.  No marry.  No marry!’ Fear turned me into a wing-flapping parrot with very bad grammar‘You no mean marry!?  You no mean marry!?  No marry!  No marry!’ He grasped my hands again, attempted to calm me. ‘Marry.  Yes, marry.  I say marry.  No because you beautiful. No because sexy.  You have big energy.  Good vibration.  I see it.  Light around you.  My friends see.  I see.  Good energy.’

Even with Brian’s broken English, understanding began to blossom. I stopped squawking & started breathing again. He smiled, encircled me with his arms & said, ‘We have connection.’ I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what to feel. He was right.

There was an energetic connection between Brian & I that had little to do with sex or romance or wanting to wrap my fingers in his crazy-curly hair. We were old souls — & we’d recognized one another.  I’d felt it from the beginning, but hadn’t known how to convey it in words or whether he’d grasp the concept even if my Spanish were sufficient to do so.

But he was twenty-three. I couldn’t fathom what I’d get –besides sweaty-steamy-beach-sex –out of a relationship with a twenty-three-year-old. I fell for him nonetheless. How could I not? We genuinely liked one another, danced well together, talked easily & openly, laughed a lot.

One afternoon in bed, lying in the crook of his arm, I reminisced about the New Year’s Even he’d been so brazen as to declare, ‘You like me a lot.’ When I told him I couldn’t quite believe he’d had the huevos to say such a thing to me, he looked perplexed. I was fairly sure I’d used Tico-slang correctly. [Translated, ‘huevos’ literally means ‘eggs’, but Ticos use it more as a colorful description for ‘man-eggs’ -- if you get my drift.] But Brian appeared flummoxed. Between his broken English & my shattered Spanish, it took ten minutes to unravel the miscommunication. When we did, I laughed & screamed so hysterically, my landlord poked her head in the window to make sure I was OK. I was.We’d discovered, when Brian boldly said, ‘You like me a lot,’ he’d actually meant to say, ‘I like you a lot.’

Realizing his gaffe, he smiled shyly, said, ‘Lo siento.  I sorry. I no mean say that.  I mean say — I like you a lot.  Oh, man!’ Then he kissed my cheek murmuring, ‘Lo siento, lo siento, lo siento.’ I assured him there was nothing to be sorry for. He liked me a lot. I liked him a lot. We have connection.

The next day, after a first-ever surfing lesson (big waves, bigger wipeouts), we sat on the beach laughing at how terrified I’d been at the prospect of encountering sharks –which I was convinced wanted nothing more than to chew me to bits, JAWS-style. Truth to tell — I had no plans to become shark-bait on my vacaciones, & if I hadn’t trusted Brian & already seen firsthand what a gifted surfer he was, nothing could’ve lured me into the deep waters of the Pacific. But it was obvious the ocean was his home, & he was born to surf –perhaps even born to teach others how to surf?

As the idea erupted in my brain, the life coach in me shifted into high gear. I realized Brian could turn his passion for riding the waves into a lucrative way to earn a living. Genius! I shared my inspiration, described in detail how brilliant Brian would be to quit his job at Hotel Giada, start a surfing school, maybe ask his cousin to help run it. Thrilled for him, I thought of the money he’d make, the independence he’d have, the exhilaration of success at his young age.  I chattered on for two or three minutes before I realized – Brian wasn’t chattering back.

Halting my dream-scheme in midsentence, I asked, ‘Well, whatdya think?’ He kissed my cheek, seemed to struggle for words. I assumed the language barrier prevented him telling me what a ridiculously talented coach I was, that he was busy translating glowing words of praise from Spanish to English. I sat patiently, awaiting the accolades to come. He kissed my cheek again, smiled. 

Ani — your idea, I thank you,’ he began. ‘Is good idea.  Is bueno.  I thank you.’ He squeezed my hand, continued, ‘Is good idea.  Verdad.’ His eyes locked with mine, guileless. ‘But my work is be happy.  And I happy.

You coulda knocked me over with a palm frond. He went on, ‘I understand your country is good to success. Is bueno.  Is good for you.  But my work is be happy.’  He shrugged his shoulders, a light in his eyes. ‘I happy,’ he repeated, the smile on his face confirming his words.

It was true. He was. Even working long, hard hours as a waiter. Even catering to tourists who could afford to vacation in Costa Rica, but seemingly couldn’t afford to tip. Even going without the conveniences I took for granted –owning a car, an overstocked grocery, air conditioning. Even living with his mother, his father, his sisters, his brother — in a home with little privacy. On an occasion when I asked if he wouldn’t prefer to move out of the family casa — get his own place – he searched my face for answers, bewildered.  

Why I want leave my Mom?’ he inquired. ‘Um, maybe to have privacy, be on your own?’ I offered. ‘Oh, no, Ani — I love my Mom.  If leave my Mom, I no happy.  Nooo happy.  I happy with my Mom.’ I couldn’t argue with that. He was. I knew firsthand.

The morning after Brian & I first spent the night together at ‘my place’ – a rental casita located a few houses down from his own — he awoke early, jumped into the outdoor shower, crawled back into bed squeaky-clean, a half-grin on his face. 

‘Come, Ani.  No sleep.  We go.  We eat breakfast.’ Receiving no response, he reached under the sheets, threatened to tickle me if I didn’t get a move-on. I closed my eyes, mock-snored as loudly as I could, ‘Conk-shuuu.  Conk-shuuu. Cohhhnnnkkk-ssshhhuuuuu.’He wasn’t buying it. ‘Aaaaanniiiii,’ he coaxed, ‘is time awake!’ ‘Cohhhnnnkkk-ssshhhuuuuu.’

Trying a new tactic, he put his lips to mine, puncuating his words with kisses. ‘Aaaaanniiiii!’ KISS. ‘Is time,’ KISS. KISS. ‘Breakfast!’ KISS. ‘Cohhhnnnkkk-ssssshhhhhhuuuuuuuu,’ I replied against his lips.

Assessing the situation, he played the sympathy card, sighing, ‘I have hungry.  Think I die if I no eat, Ani. Think I die if I no eat, ahora!’I opened my eyes, made a funny face. Giggling, I said, ‘You look bueno to me!’ He whistled in exasperation, started grumbling in Spanish, faster than I could translate. 

One thing was apparent —  the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach, even in Costa Rica. I laughed, told him I’d cook something muy delicioso as soon as I had energy sufficient to lift my head off the pillow. He rolled his eyes, said, ‘No, no, no.  My Mom cook! She want meet you.  We go.  Is late.  She wait.’

Suddenly I had no problem lifting my head off the pillow.  I bolted upright — speechless again — mouth agape. My heart danced a merengue, my mind twirled to the pumping beat: I’ve spent the night with a twenty-three-year-old, & his mother — who happens to be a mere six years my senior – wants to meet me & cook breakfast!? 

I found my voice. ‘Mi dios, tell me you’re kidding! Tell me you’re joking!  Tell me you’re not serious! Por favor, tell me your mother isn’t waiting to cook me breakfast?!’ I pleaded.

‘She wait y she cook. Pero no eat if we no go ahora,’ he said, pulling me into his arms.

‘Oh, God, Brian — I can’t walk into your family’s home the morning after we’ve had sex & expect your Mom to cook for me!  Are you loco?!’ He handed me my flip-flops.

I pulled the sheet over my head. ‘No way.  I’m not going.  I’m NOT going. She might try to poison me or something.’

‘No, no.  She no poison.  She no poison!  She cook with love!  Have big, love energy in eggs, gallo pinto.  You see.  She no cook bad energy except when she mad.  When she mad, I taste difference.  Taste muy malo. Last time she mad with Papi, I no eat nothing for two days!’ In spite of Brian’s disturbing attempt at reassurance, I got dressed, trudged the dirt road to his family casa, A Dead Senorita Walking.

 A howler monkey in the low branch of a mangrove screamed bloody-murder.  ‘You can say that again,’ I mumbled, feeling sick. Brian held my hand the entire way, had the grace not to mention how slick & sweaty it was. Smiling, oblivious to my dread, he walked into the house, pulling me along behind him. We entered the kitchen. There she was. This woman — quite nearly my contemporary — whose son was falling for me. My mind begged the question —  Oh, Blessed Maria, what have I done to deserve this?! But my heart already knew the answer – I’d slept with a twenty-three-year-old.

Brian kissed his mother on the cheek, lingered in a hug, gestured my way. He seemed so proud & happy. Dizzy with fear, I hung back in the corner, leaned against the stucco wall, bracing myself for the tirade to come. Silencio. I wondered if I’d comprehend whatever curses she’d hurl my way, thought I’d be lucky if I didn’t. I said a last-minute prayer. Oh, God — please protect me and forgive me for my sins.  Please let this Mother Hen spare me and let me go on living another day on Your Great Green Earth.  And if she does and if You do, I promise to never sleep with another twenty-three-year-old again!  And if I do, I promise not to show up at his mother’s house the next day for breakfast.  Ever.  Again. Amen. 

I resisted the urge to cross myself, took a step forward, resigned to my fate. With a rigid smile plastered on my face, I waited. She closed the distance between us in two steps, kissed my cheek, & took me into her arms.

‘Hola, Ani!’ she crooned.  ‘Mucho gusto.’ I’ve never felt so welcome. Or so relieved. The meal — rice & beans & eggs & plantains — was cooked with such Big Love, I tasted it. I understood why he never wanted to leave. I understood why he’d miss his Mami if he did. And I understood why he was so happy.

A week later, an illness hit Brian fast & hard. Feverish, swollen glands, aching all over, he was barely able to get out of bed. Afraid for him, I advised a visit to the doctor in a nearby village. He said he wanted to surf instead. I pushed him back into the pillows, covered him with the sheet, mopped his brow with a cool washcloth. I thought he was delirious.

Bri, you need a doctor.  This is serious,’ I warned.

‘No, no, no.  I need surf.  I need medicine.  Surf my medicine.  I go surf.’

Once again, I found myself speechless in the face of a young man whose wisdom defied his years.   I wanted to argue, force him to see things my way, coerce him into seeking a professional so he’d be healthy again. But since I’d underestimated him more than once, I held my tongue, decided to trust.  Maybe the love he felt for surfing would heal him? Weak but determined, he labored out of bed, got dressed, kissed me ‘adios’.  From a sore throat, he croaked, ‘Hasta luego!’ over his shoulder as he ambled down the dirt path to the beach.

Somehow I knew he’d be well in a few hours. While Brian went in search of surf-medicine, I curled up in a hammock, watched colorful parrots flitting from lime tree to mango, back to lime again. An iridescent blue butterfly fluttered onto my hand. I smiled, burrowing deeper into the hammock & into my reverie. I thought about all I’d learned in six weeks in Costa Rica, how I hoped to carry the lessons with me back home to the States. I thought about how a twenty-three-year-old taught me more than I ever dreamed possible. I thought about how love finds its way through words, through food, through cultures, through the joy of dancing & surfing & passion. And about how love found its way through two old souls born years & miles & countries apart. We have connection, I thought. And I happy.

That’s My Story,

ANI

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