It Takes a Village

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RodO… photo courtesy of Jasmine Osiowy

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Henry Brooks Adams

As originally published in e-Know:

Mount Baker Wild Theatre’s spring musical production of the Drowsy Chaperone played May 7th at the Keys City Theatre. For those who have enjoyed the amazing Baker productions for the past many years, they will know this play marked the close of an era. The youngest group of students who had the privilege of working with the late, great Rod Osiowy are getting ready to graduate.

Rod was a special teacher. He believed in expanding and opening the high school’s theatre productions to include the whole community. It was not uncommon to see the chorus or main characters being played by local business people, clergy, and other pillars of society. And Rod encouraged children from the local elementary and middle schools to join the casts. Rod called it stocking the farm team. He knew that the love of theatre, when instilled at a young age, would carry through into the teen years. By the time the children who began performing as young as 5 years old got to high school, they would be seasoned performers, ready for whatever challenge Rod might throw their way.

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RodO and Evan… Photo courtesy of Jasmine Osiowy

Grease, Beauty and the Beast, Jesus Christ Superstar, Anything Goes, Seussical and Les Miserables, just to name a few, Rod Osiowy along with his partner in crime, Musical Director Evan Bueckert managed to create theatrical experiences far exceeding the expectation for a high school production. But more than that, Rod taught each person who worked with him the importance of being a part of the team.

It was a grand tradition. Opening night of each show Rod gave the Village speech. It went something like this:

A high school production is like a village. All sorts of people are part of the village. You have the Mayor and Council members, who look after the townsfolk and make sure that things are fair for everyone. There are the law makers and the ones who enforce them. There are trades people and artisans, builders and business people. All of the townsfolk are vital, important and have their own unique purpose. And of course you have the lovable village idiot (and Rod would point to himself, causing great gales of laughter). The thing about a village is that every person is important and nobody matters more or less than anyone else. We work together for the success of the village and we remember that the energy we bring will affect everyone. Attitudes are contagious, so make sure yours is worth catching.

Important life lessons from Rod Osiowy.

Tessa Charlton who played Mrs. Tottendale in the Drowsy Chaperone recalls: “Rod had a way of making everyone feel special. I loved to be the center of attention but Rod helped facilitate that diva in me in a productive way. Towards the end of one of the rehearsals we had for Beauty and the Beast, Rod approached me and complimented my eye for the number we had just been working on and asked if I’d address the cast with my opinion on what we needed to work on. I felt like the most special kid in the world, even If I was just an 11 year old kid playing a dancing tea cup.”

And Eve Sperling remembers: “He always knew how to make us laugh and he was so easygoing but just strict enough to keep all us hooligan kids under control. He always had a smile on his face and a joke ready, and he remembered everyone’s names, even if they were a small chorus part that to anyone else would be ‘insignificant’.”

The Village metaphor is kept alive and well by the young people who worked with Rod, carrying on a legacy of inclusion and mentorship. Tyrel Hawke, who graduated several years ago, has returned to the area to work as an RN at the Cranbrook & District Hospital. Hawke volunteered as the vocal coach and pianist for the production.

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Tyrel Hawke… photo by Julian Bueckert

“Quite often I’m asked why I volunteer my time for this program, and my answer is pretty simple. During the awkward point of my life I call high school, Rod and Evan took hundreds of hours out of their lives to spend with kids like myself and help us create something amazing. This led to confidence and purpose for me during high school and careers and opportunities ever since. Rod had a way of making each one of us feel special and that we can always try harder to achieve something great. I am forever indebted to Rod, Evan, and the Baker arts program. I’m still stopped occasionally by people saying, ‘aren’t you that Jean Valjean boy?’ ten years after we did Les Mis. I do these shows for the spirit of Rod, my younger self, and these kids that have a lot more drive and dedication than many adults I know.”

Bethany Turcon is the new Drama Teacher at Mount Baker and was the Director of the Drowsy Chaperone. This was Turcon’s first experience as a director and she managed to create a production worthy of all that have come before. Along with Evan Bueckert and Stephanie Tichauer, and a host of other fine and dedicated designers, musicians, technicians and volunteers, Ms. Turcon created another Village, one that lived up to the legacy created by Rod Osiowy.

Everyone should have a teacher as great as Rod Osiowy. Thankfully his legacy lives on in the fine work and dedication of the students and colleagues who carry on in the village he created.

By and By, Lord

My Grandma was a cool old bird. She told stories, laughed easily and heartily, was a terrible cook but a gifted quilter. She played piano by ear and all we would have to do was hum a few bars and she would pick it up right away. We would sing along for hours and she never seemed to get tired. She took us camping and taught us to play cribbage. She was a terrible gossip but mixed names up so much that it was a harmless pursuit, as nobody knew who had done what to whom after she’d mixed things up so badly. She was joyful and full of life. She devoured Harlequin Romances, sometimes reading 2 or 3 in a day, and would tell me all of the juicy bits, whispering with scandalized glee.

I had the privilege, in my early 20s to look after Grandma while my grandfather was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. Grandma had heart troubles of her own, so leaving her alone was not an option. At the time I doubt I would have called it a “privilege”. It was summer and all of my friends were back home from University. There were parties and celebrations, beach days and all manner of shenanigans, and there I was on the other side of the province, taking care of my grandmother. But I loved her, and my grandfather had asked. I would never even consider saying no to such a kind, generous and loving man. He was my hero, after all.

Our days were simple. They would start with me waking up, usually around 8 am. As a young adult my preference would have been to sleep until past noon, but each day, as the birds began to sing, Grandma would wander into my room, sit on the side of my bed and start talking. She would talk and talk and keep on talking until I would finally open my eyes and rise for the day ahead.

After eating our breakfast she would have me set her hair in pin curls, preparing for our daily visit to see Grandpa. Even after more than 50 years of marriage she still wanted to look her best before seeing him, making sure her lipstick was straight, her Evening In Paris perfume dabbed on each wrist and behind each ear, and her shiny polyester dress was tidy.

One day as I was winding her white hair into tiny curls, Grandma told me something that has had a lasting and profound effect on my life. She told me that as she had gotten older, as her peers had passed on she had reached a point in her life when nobody called her by her given name anymore. She was “mom”, “grandma”, “Mrs. Burley”… and even Grandpa called her “Mother”. She said it so matter-of-factly, as if she were mentioning that she’d given some old coats to the Thrift Store.

I was appalled! How could something like that happen? To my young, burgeoning feminist ways it seemed as if her true identity had been washed away, leaving only the masks she wore. I couldn’t imagine living my life where nobody actually saw the real me. I swore to myself then and there that I would never let that happen to me.

I am older now and my understanding is deeper. I answer to “mom” and “mrs”, “ma-am” and “aunty”. No “grandma” yet, (which is good because my girl is only 17. I am more than willing to wait for that honor). My husband calls me “Sweetie” and has only ever called me by my given name when speaking of me to another person.

But I am still most certainly, Brenda. You see I have discovered the secret to keeping in touch with the very essence of who I am, outside of the roles I play. The real Me, who was born during youthful slumber parties, who once went skinny dipping in Cottonwood River with my best friends, who remembers falling in love for the first time then having my heart broken… Real, open, funny, vulnerable, feisty and crazy Brenda, has been kept alive and well. It’s been pretty simple, really, to keep in touch with that crazy chick. Here’s my secret:

I have girlfriends. A whole great big circle of them.

I have some I share all my dreams with. I have a few who are as crazy and weird as I am. There are friends I’ve known for decades, yet never met face to face. Some friends share my passion for reading and we talk for hours about the books we love as if they are beloved children. I have my foodie friends and we love to share our passion for all things delicious and juicy. I have friends who lean on me. And I have friends I lean on. We tell each other secrets and then we keep them. We get together in groups, or pairs to laugh and to cry, to hold each other up and keep each other from falling. We celebrate each other’s successes and soothe each other’s disappointments. We are always on each other’s side and we will gladly hate each other’s enemies. We tell each other that we are the best singer/dancer/juggler in the world, even when our talents are questionable. We sing each other’s praises and as our nests empty we teach each other how to fly.

We are a circle so strong and vast and magical that we will ever be unbroken.   My girlfriends, who have seen all of the facets of who I am and love me anyways, I keep them close and cherish each one, for I know that to be truly seen as only our friends can see us is a gift.

And by and by, when time disappears and we are able to reach across the veil, my grandmother will join us. We will open our circle and our arms to embrace her and sing out together: “Welcome, Hazel”!

Living Happily Ever After in 8 Easy Steps

“Either give me more wine, or leave me alone.”  Rumi

Any of you who have been following along on my journey for the past few months have probably figured out that I like to set myself to tasks.  I have found that if I don’t give myself tangible goals and set intentions to follow through, days and days will pass without any writing, creating or purposeful living.  Yes, yes: I really AM the Queen of Procrastination.  Look here I am with my crown:

wine

And so I find myself with the task today to talk about Rumi’s quote, “Either give me more wine or leave me alone.”  No really.  It’s a Rumi quote.  Imagine my surprise when I was collecting quotes to use during this month of Ruminations I have assigned to myself, and here was this awesome, fabulous, incongruous quote.  It seemed so unspiritual in nature,(ironic, I know,  because of the direct reference to a spirit) but when I contemplated the quote further, I wondered, could this hide a great life lesson?

On the surface the meaning seems fairly clear.  Granted I have had moments like that in my life, wanting nothing but to be left alone to slosh around in my own self pity, ‘wining’ as it were.  But upon further study I believe the true meaning behind these words goes much deeper.  Perhaps what Rumi is really trying to say is “if you are here to add to my joy, then stay.  If not… get outta my face.”  He says it a bit more poetically.

My contemplation of joy, and how to bring more happiness to life has led me to write a LIST!  I know.  You are probably as excited as I am.

Living ‘happily ever after’ is not just for Disney Princesses anymore.  With a few guidelines anyone can live a happier, more fulfilling and joyous life.  Here are a few tips that have made all the difference in my life.

1.  Choose your friends wisely.  Friends are a great source of happiness.  They can bring you comfort when you need it, a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with, or someone to build you up and make you believe in yourself and in your dreams.  Good friends are priceless and irreplaceable.  Keep them close to your heart.  Cherish them and love them for they count among the greatest gifts your life has to offer.

Then there are those other ‘friends’.  You know the ones I mean.  These ‘friends’ are always sure to knock you down a few pegs, make you feel just a little bit foolish for dreaming too big, or say the things that should really be left unsaid.  The ‘friends’ who gossip to you, and then gossip about you.  The ‘friends’ who start sentences with things like “don’t take this the wrong way, but….” or “I hate to be a bitch, but….”.  These people are not friends.  They are frenemies.  Recognize them quickly, send them love, but then send them.  Away.  Far, far away.

2.  Choose to be happy.  Sounds too simple, I know, but when you come right down to it, happiness really is a choice.  Life is a constant series of changes, some good, some not so good, but always it is our reaction to events that cause us to experience happiness, or not.   By making a conscious effort to see happiness as a choice when things are going well, it will be much easier to find a silver lining when those storm clouds roll in.  Sure, you may not feel happiness when the rain is pouring down, but at least you won’t despair.  Choosing to be happy most of the time helps to create a habit of happiness so that no matter what life throws your way, you will weather the storm.

3.  Get moving.  Walk, bike, swim, dance, jog, hop on a pogo stick, skip rope, whatever.  Just get moving.  It will fire up your endorphins and make the happy chemicals dance in your brain.  And while you are at it, take those endorphins out into nature.  Something about walking through the woods recharges and replenishes in such a way that it is nearly impossible to hold onto stress.

4.  Dance with abandon.   We all seem to worry so much about what others think of us it stands to reason that everybody else is so busy thinking the same things themselves that they don’t have the time to think anything about us.  Free yourself from the perception that other people judge what you do, then crank the music and dance.   Nobody is watching.

5.  Help somebody.  It is the best kind of high.  Reaching out to somebody in need takes us out of ourselves and gives us a sense of empathy, compassion, and joy that makes feeling despondent nearly impossible.  Lend a hand, and gain a heart.

6.  Get busy.  Create something.  Put down the iDevice, shut off the Netflix and make something from nothing.  Creating gets us closer to our true selves and brings our spirits alive.  It doesn’t have to be fancy and you don’t have to share it with anyone.  Fingerpaint, or decorate a cake, or plant an herb garden or make a rag rug… anything will do.  Be inspired and follow that calling.

7.  Stay young.  Years may cause our bodies to age, but we can choose to keep our spirit young.  In youth we see things with fresh eyes, we fall in love with life and all of its possibilities, we dream big and believe we can grow into it.  By maintaining a youthful spirit we can sell our cleverness and look with awe at all of the wonders of the world.

8.  Laugh (and cry) often.  My American Husband is hilarious.  He makes me laugh every single day and this, to me, is his finest quality and most attractive feature.  Laughter really is the best medicine for whatever ails you.  But did you know that crying is also very good for you?  Feeling and expressing whatever emotions you have is the most authentic form of human existence.  It’s only when we suppress our emotions that they bounce around inside and cause us to get sick.  So watch a funny, or sad movie, find friends who share your sense of humor, and learn to laugh at life’s funny twists and turns.   Don’t take life so seriously.  Nobody makes it out alive anyways.

And so concludes my advice on living happily ever after.  Taking a cue from my own list, I create for you, a poem:

My list is writ,

my song is sung,

my smile is lit,

my wine is brung.

Take that, Rumi.

Reflections

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”  Rumi

Have you ever noticed how patterns in life will keep repeating until we finally “get it”? For me this was never as apparent as when my family and I moved to another city, far far away.  I left behind a lot of great friends, but also a few toxic relationships and I was ready for a nice, shiny, new start.

Imagine my surprise when the exact same toxic relationships showed up, disguised as other people. It was nearly comical, the week I started my new job and began to see the character traits blooming.   Oh wow.  Shirley is my new Back Stabbing Dawn.  Jake is my new Lascivious Larry.   And OH NO Clarissa is clearly my new Angry Annie.  WTF, Universe?  I thought I had left those problems behind and yet here they were again, only this time even bigger caricatures of their predecessors.  Where Dawn had been sneaky and sly in her back stabbing, Shirley was openly mean.  Where Larry had been subtle with his advances, Jake was a creepy octopus.  And Clarissa’s dark cloud of wrath made Angry Annie seem like a ray of sunshine.

Recognizing the repeating patterns was my first step in breaking these toxic relationships that kept developing in my world.   Once the pattern was recognized I was able to determine what lesson this person/relationship was here to teach.  Why did these annoying people keep showing up?  If I could just figure out what part of me they were polishing, maybe I could get the rubbing to stop.

I have come to realize that being a people pleaser, I tend to attract those inch/mile people who have no sense of boundaries.   So I set some boundaries.  I learned to calmly, gently but firmly speak my mind and even realized that “No” is a complete sentence.  Personal growth in leaps and bounds, right?  Now those annoying boundary pushers would leave me alone.  Lesson learned… let’s move on.

But no.  Seems the same “types” are still finding me, and it seems with each new representative they have become ever more extreme in their behaviors.  I continue to set my boundaries, but they keep showing up, leaping the fence, rubbing up against me until I am raw from their incessant polishing.

So what?  Were there more lessons to learn?  And if so, what could they be?  Bigger boundaries?  Going on the offensive, being rude?  Ending relationships?  Becoming a hermit?

Getting still and silent one day, I heard the whisper of wisdom.  Speaking my truth and setting boundaries was one lesson.  But the true lesson went far beyond.  The cold hard truth was that I was being judgmental.  If somebody wasn’t fitting within the sterile parameters of my idea of what was acceptable, I was shutting them out. Ouch.  Truth bomb.

The true, spiritual lesson was that I needed to break down my own barriers and build a sanctuary of acceptance.  Maybe the Annie’s, Larry’s and others simply had a different sense of what was proper, socially acceptable behavior than I had.  Being different did not make them wrong.  Maybe my feelings of discomfort came because they were here to help me to stop keeping myself detached from life.   Maybe the real lesson was to love, unconditionally, in real and tangible ways and not just talk about it.  Maybe – just maybe –  I needed to walk the talk…live the talk, and break down the barriers I had built between me and my true Self.

My new practice is simple.  I accept whoever comes my way.  If they are angry, petty or gossip, I don’t react, but send them loving kindness.  I respond with gentleness and quiet acceptance and the results have been nearly miraculous.  The people who have come to polish my mirror reflect to me the things about myself that I have hidden away, secret shames and fears.  At first these relationships taught me how to have a better human experience.  Now they teach me how to have a better spiritual experience.  They shine and polish my mirror so that I can be the clear, divine love that I am meant to be.

And when they finally gaze into the mirror that they have helped to polish, they too get a glimpse of their eternal nature as I reflect back to them their own light.