Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘General Assembly’

Guest Post by Ben Soule

The day after the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly ended my wife Deb and I were still in New Orleans. Most of the other delegates had already flown out and Deb was scheduled to be in meetings with some of the remaining UUA leaders, so I had some time to myself. Finding that the museum I intended to visit was closed on Mondays, I decided to take a long walk through my favorite city instead.  I took out my cell phone, opened Google Maps, dropped a pin in the middle of the Bywater District, hit the start button, and set off.

I was glad for this chance to get out of the hotel room, out of the GA bubble, and stretch my legs.  I was also glad to be able to have a chance to reflect on all that had happened in the past five days.  I thought back on all of the mind- and soul-stretching workshops I had attended, working to understand where I fit in the seismic shift in Unitarian Universalism that this year’s Assembly has signaled.  In addition, I had set out on my own quest to answer some questions for which I could find no ready answers, such as:

~ What is the cultural origin of the word ashé? 
~ Why have “indigenous people” been given a separate category from the larger category of people of color? 
~ How did the phrase “white supremacy” come to be the default term for that which we are working against?  
~ And my last and only unanswered question of the week: How do we wrestle with the issues raised by the brutal attack on two UUA staff members in the French Quarter on Saturday night, in light of all we had learned in recent days?  I was working hard on that one.

My route took me around much of the crescent for which the old city was nick-named.  As I crossed Bienville I recalled the news report from that morning saying that the attack took place on “the 200 block of Bienville.”  I glanced to my left and wondered.  I continued past Jackson Square, past the French market, through the industrial end of the Marigny district and into the Bywater.  The Bywater is a pleasant neighborhood that appears to have come a long way since Katrina, and shows signs of the mixed blessing of gentrification.  I walked along Rue Dauphine past many brightly painted houses as well as some that clearly needed to be worked on.  I came to a corner with a Mom and Pop market and a flower and bookshop where my GPS told me I had another 100 feet to my destination.  I walked the last few steps, stopped and looked around, hoping that there would be  something there, something significant, something that I was supposed to find.  But there wasn’t. Just some well-kept houses on a quiet street shaded by lime trees. 

So I turned back the way I had come to that last street corner.  It was mid-afternoon on a warm New Orleans day and I was glad to be able to buy something cold to drink at the market.  I stepped past a few people sitting in the shade of the sidewalk awning and entered the dimly lit market.  I exchanged a few pleasantries with the woman behind the counter as I bought a bottle of fruit juice and had a few gulps.  I stepped out onto the sidewalk and looked across the street at the book and florist shop I had passed earlier. 

And then I knew why I was there.  I crossed and went into the tiny florist’s but no one was there.  I called up the stairs where the books must have been.  No answer.  As I turned to leave, a young woman appeared in the doorway.  I recognized her from the group across the street.  “Do you work here?” I asked.  “Yes, can I help you?,” she said.  I asked for a small mixed bouquet for a sick friend.  She went to the tinier back room and returned with a lovingly assembled splash of colors and look of sympathy in her eyes.  I asked for a card to write a note, jotted a few words and tied it with the yarn around the brown paper bundle.  I paid her the $13.20, thanked her, asked for the most interesting route back to the Quarter, and set off.

On Burgundy I passed a carefully restored Esso station with a sign saying “No gas today.”  On Elysian Fields I saw a circle of rust brown statue-people facing defiantly outward.  On Rue Royal I was greeted with a “How y’all doin’” by a young man, and I saw a young woman retrieve an electronic recorder for a UPS driver that had fallen from his truck.  Everything seemed to have meaning to me in the hyperaware state I was in because my GA experience. 

I was nearly all the way across the Quarter when I drained the last of the now-warm juice, and saw the sign for Rue Bienville up ahead.  My heart was pounding as I turned left toward the river.  I passed the 400 block and crossed North Peters.  I seemed to be out of what I thought of as the French Quarter but I kept on. Ahead was a single four-story brick building surrounded by parking lots.  I realized that the flowers’ brown paper wrapper was soaked through with my own sweat as I took the bouquet with my right hand from the crook of my left arm and approached the building.  It was marked number 208.

There was a man setting up a power washer.  The intake hose was in a drainage ditch of an adjacent building project.  As he started the washer I saw that his job was to wash away the sand that was strewn on the sidewalk.  My realization that I had found the right place was confirmed when, as he cleaned away the top layer, I saw the caked red sand beneath.

209 NOLAI placed the flowers in a nook in the front of building and left the man to his task. As I walked away I wondered why I had done this thing.  It was not my typical behavior.  I didn’t do it for myself, and I knew it would make little difference to the victims.  I had no expectation that the flowers would be there more than 10 minutes after I left.  But I understood I was the only person in that place and at that time who could make that gesture, who could bear witness, as Deb phrased it later.  I understood that no matter how difficult we find the road that we travel together, no matter how long it takes to hear and to know each others’ deepest stories, how painful it is to create a welcome place in our movement for all who wish to join, we must stand together.

Clearly I had felt a call from my deep life-long connection to Unitarian Universalism.  I am grateful to have been awake and aware enough to heed that call.

Ben Soule is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.  He resides in Lexington, MA and is a member of First Parish in Lexington.

Read Full Post »

If life had unfolded the way it has for the last twenty-three years, I would now be en route to the site of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly, getting a crew of fifteen or so volunteers ready to report, blog, video record, produce podcasts, and photograph this annual conference.  But since I was laid off in March, things are different this year.

Mostly I’m finding that I don’t mind the thought of missing GA — at least, not too much.  I will be sorry to miss the presentation of the Association’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism to a good friend; I am sorry I won’t be on the plenary floor for what promises to be a really interesting debate on whether to move the 2012 General Assembly from Phoenix to another location.  And God knows, I will miss the friends and colleagues I’ve connected with all these years.

On the other hand, I don’t mind the break:  I have had a delightful spring, filled with planting my garden (and now, beginning to harvest), engaging in yoga at a level far deeper than before, re-connecting with friends, blogging (yes, this blog), and finding out what the rhythm of my life is like when it’s not driven by very demanding and pressing deadlines and complaints.  This sabbatical has been a real gift and I am grateful to my core.  I feel like I have gotten a part of my life back.

And this weekend will bring something else I haven’t had in four years:  a trip to the Isles of Shoals and Star Island, for a full week of vacation.  The last time my husband and I were able to attend a full week of the Star Island conference we are most connected to, was 2006.  Since then, the General Assembly schedule and the island conference schedule have not agreed, and Ben and I have had to send our daughter out to the island with friends, and content ourselves with a short half of a week in which to try and relax and rejuvenate.  Not this year.

So on Saturday morning, we’ll get on a boat with friends, bring a gourmet picnic with us, and get ready for a wonderful, music-filled week in the place I love best in all the world.  Ben and I met on Star when we were four years old, and we have raised our children on this island as well.  Our daughter, Emily, has worked on Star for many summers, as Ben and I did when we were young adults.  Our daughter, Abby, looks forward to the time – in just a couple of years — when she, too, will be old enough to join the summer staff and experience Star from the ‘inside,’ for a whole summer.  We have to content ourselves with this one precious week, and a long weekend or two through the rest of the summer and fall.

Much has been written about Star Island, by famous writers and poets, and ‘just folks’ who fall in love with the place.  For me, there is something remarkable that happens about ten minutes after the boat I’m on leaves the harbor headed for Star:  the mainland releases its grasp, the news headlines and concerns of the world fade away.  The cold, crisp air fills my lungs.  My hair gets tangled in the wind, the salt spray mists my clothes.  And I realize that I am there, in the now, on the sea, and it is all that I care about.  Docking at Star, I walk up the path to the old hotel, past the flowers and the flagpole that I see with the eyes of the child I was…it is all the same now as it was then.  The bell on the long piazza rings to announce events of the day, the voices of children and adults drift in and out on the breeze, there are no cars or TV’s or billboards.  And, seated in a rocking chair or on the rocks themselves, I look out.  Across Gosport Harbor, I watch the sailboats slip in and out of port, the rowboats moving as folks explore the coves of Smuttynose Island across the way. Life has slowed like heartbeats that calm after a half-hour of meditation.

I want no more than a Lime Rickey, a conversation with Ben or a friend I’ve known since childhood, back on the island with their family as am I.  Life moves at a completely different pace here.  It is all very, very simple and very, very good.

This is Island Mind…a time to reclaim the calm and peace and beauty that lives mostly in our imaginations, but too rarely in reality.  Others find this bliss in different places:  mountain tops, canyons at sunset, fishing on a placid lake.  For me, Star is the place.  I yearn for my island mind, which sits, somewhere inside me, waiting for its release.  And I will, once more, be carried away.

Read Full Post »