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Touched by the Gifts of Others

Purposeful Wanderings – Bradford L. Glass – March 2023

Newsletter - 3.23
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“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.” – Welsh proverb

Our world seems to tell us we need to make our lives happen … all on our own. We may believe we do this, but it’s not how things go. It’s easy to forget, or perhaps notice, or at times acknowledge, how the presence of others indelibly touches our lives. And curiously, those others are all the while simply walking their own life’s journey.

Looking back, my life has been “made more” through gifts (unanticipated, unplanned, noticed only afterwards) from so many. As paths have crossed, threads of our shared experiences have helped me weave a fabric that has become my life. I cannot feel lonely in that kind of world. Mostly, I feel gratitude – for a source of strength I didn’t know I had, a piece of self-trust hidden under my perceived weaknesses, the capacity to evoke the best in me – all from a “simple” connection that opened the door to lasting impact. I acknowledge two of those special others here … and invite you to reflect on those who may have touched you and enhanced your life path.

Tom was a professor of Environmental Science at Antioch’s graduate school, a passion that has defined his entire life as well as a career that spanned 34 years of it. Our paths crossed for two years when I was a student of his. Tom taught ecology – the study of systems and relationships in nature. In offering new ways of seeing the natural world, however, Tom [perhaps unknowingly] taught me new ways of seeing my world – myself, others, my life, my work, “the” world. It’s easy to understand how learning something in one part of life can rub off onto other parts, but the unique thing about Tom was his ability to make this process natural, effortless and fun. He did this, I believe, because he taught more through questions than answers. Asking me to think about things was far more powerful than telling me about things. A remarkable by-product was that he left me believing I did it all myself. His way of seeing nature has become core to how I see my life, and in turn, to how I work with clients to help them see theirs. (Tom’s videos on YouTube offer an easily accessible path to his way, his wisdom, and his expertise.)

Jim was an organizational development manager for a large software organization I’d been “invited” to lead. Back then, I thought I knew everything, so Jim showed up as more of a problem than as a solution. The whole story is in my book, Living Authentically, but the essence is this: Jim’s persistence in dealing with an unruly renegade led to my path crossing for a morning with the paths of a bunch of monks. Jim’s “plan” here was unbeknownst to me beforehand. Anxiety quickly gave way to awe, however, as I absorbed the breadth and depth of their worldview, which drew insightful connections among the power of human consciousness, prayer and quantum science. A scientist by education, an engineer by trade, and a thinker by nature, I felt my world transform in an instant. Only later did I see how Jim’s belief in me manifested in his determination to transform me from a “human doing” into a “human being.” As with Tom, Jim’s impact left me believing I did it all myself.

OK, Jim’s persistence was just what I needed then; anything stronger would have evoked my ire; anything weaker would have been too easy to ignore. Tom’s artful questioning, plus his gracious humility, was just what I needed then. (Perhaps Jim’s gift had opened me to Tom’s.) Some thirty years later, the gifts of both still touch me deeply. Curious, but I’ve become what Jim was to me – a coach; I’ve become how Tom was with me – curiously questioning.

I had a chance to thank Tom in person at his retirement party twenty years ago. While acknowledging his impact on my life brought tears to my eyes, he made my life richer still by turning the thanks back to me (why would I be surprised at that?) I’ve been on a [fruitless so far] search for Jim, wishing simply to thank him as well. One day. This said, I’m fully aware there are many others whose impact I quietly acknowledge – and feel – and my gratitude for their gifts is indelibly etched in my heart. Then of course, there are likely countless others who may have similar stories … about Tom, about Jim … and about so many others. Threads woven into fabrics that become lives, richer lives. We don’t do it all alone. Awareness. Acceptance. Gratitude.

Exercise: Who has changed your world? Find a quiet place you love, a place free of distractions. Reflect for a while on the person you’ve become. Allow yourself to see without judgment, and acknowledge that, in many ways, you are a product of all that has touched you, all you’ve experienced. Like rocks in a river, you’ve been polished by the flow of life, and by the depth and meaning of your connections with others. Listen to whatever comes up for you. Eventually you’ll feel, then think about, the presence of those who you’ve allowed to mold you (even if kicking and screaming, as I was with Jim). You might choose to quietly name and remember each one, then allow the energy of their presence to touch you once again. You might choose to find a way to thank them. (My way of saying thank-you to Tom was easy; they had a retirement party for him and I showed up.) You may be surprised, as was I, at the “sense of self” this exercise offers you.

Life Lessons from Nature: Many years back, my son gave me a framed photograph that still sits on my bookcase. It shows a river, flowing through a sandstone canyon, with a caption reading: “Perseverance: In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins … not through strength, but through persistence.” On one hand, I’m not sure it’s a “confrontation,” nor am I sure anyone “wins.” But on the other hand, it’s a beautiful example of the connectedness of everything in nature. The river shapes the rock; the rock accepts the river. Both are “just being who they are.” And the canyon is simply the current state of their relationship. Like people sharing their gifts, water changes the shape of the world while competing with nothing. Persistence may be the quality of always being both, without judgment. Reminds me of Tom … and Jim.

Book of the month: A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey to an Undivided Life, by Parker Palmer. Palmer suggests we tend to hide our true selves from our visible selves, living differently in different parts of life – perhaps so as to deny parts of us we don’t like. Herein lies the opportunity for wholeness, for meaning … allowing each part to embrace the other. He speaks strongly to the notion of being alone together. “Solitude does not mean living apart from others; it means never living apart from oneself. Community does not mean living face-to-face with others; it means never losing awareness that we are connected to each other.” And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.


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