The Power of Place
I have been associated with GYLI as an educator since 2004 and have so many memories and friendships that have put me in the place I am today. The beauty of that “place” is that I have so many opportunities to weave our organization’s ideals into my work. The central ideas of celebrating our multicultural identities, modeling collaborative leadership, living with purpose and committed to environmental sustainability, and promoting dialogue and religious pluralism are deeply rooted in what I do as a school leader, but they are firmly planted with me because of the places I love from the GYLI experience!
Sailing on the Amistad, Denis Sullivan, Mystic Whaler, and Irving Johnson remind me of the power of community in whatever task we have ahead of us. I may not be a perfect navigator in the map room on a ship, but I have grown more and more comfortable because I sit next to people who help our team figure out where we need to go, how to get there, and the room becomes the expert…not just one person. The decks of these ships have always reminded me that we can’t get anywhere on the water without the full commitment and focus of our crew. Leadership on these decks does not just reside with the Captain or whomever might be at the helm, we all have jobs that are important to get the work done! And I certainly can’t forget the galley and many days spent with a small part of my Watch cooking meals to provide sustaining energy to our crew aboard each ship. The gentle waves of the morning of Block Island Sound, the striking of our sails in the Pacific Ocean as we prepare for a “greeting” by a whale under our ship, or the strong winds on Lake Michigan as we sail “wing on wing” back to port, standing on bow watch as the ship cuts through the waves remind me that we can do so much together when we live out the principles of collaborative leadership and celebrate our multi-cultural identities.
Sitting on the Portal at the Lama Foundation has always given me a chance to pause and take in the beauty of the moment, because that’s all we have. Being present and seeing the vast expanse of the Rio Grande mesa reminds me how small we are, but how important our role is in creating a more sustainable world. The ancestors of that land have lived in harmony with nature, the ancestors of the Lama Foundation have built a foundation that has weathered countless storms and a significant wildfire. And it always comes back. People come back to that place for its deep connections and open heart. The ancestors give permission for the Lama Beans to inhabit the land as they share it without price. Even as the native peoples make their annual pilgrimage to the spring house that feeds Lama, there is a deep respect as they come to call the spirit to renew the land. The powerful of place that is the Lama Foundation calls on me to remember those who have gone before us and those who come after us as we care for our Earth and each other. Whenever I need a moment of clam and clarity, I close my eyes and am instantly placed on the Portal, with the Lama Flag in the foreground, and the setting sun filling the mesa. As a student recalled as we debriefed the “solo” he shared the powerful idea that this view gives him hope. He shared that for the first time in his life he saw a rainstorm begin, grow, unleash its power, and slowly dissipate and end. He shared that this moment of clarity was powerful because even in the midst of a storm, there is hope and assurance that it does end. This place has provided me with deep healing and our sharing in circle has brought me great hope for our future.
The connections in my GYLI experiences are some of my core memories because they speak to the synergy of people and place. It includes rafting down the strong rapids of the Pacuare river, zip-lining bravely over the Rio Reventazón, working alongside students from EARTH University in a local school teaching English when I know no Spanish, and leaving my “mark” on a community-created mural. But my deepest connections are from the time spent with Fernando and Lydia on their farm during my homestay. It was sitting at their kitchen table, learning to shuck beans, and develop a deep human connection across cultures with little access to a common language. The connections deepened as we mounted horses and moved their cattle from one pasture to another, milked cows early in the morning, made fresh (and I mean really fresh!) cheese, and shoveled “fuel” into their biodigester built with student leaders from EARTH. They welcomed me into their home, showed the warmest of hospitality, and showed me what it was to be connected to the land, the community, and the power of place. We don’t think of our homes today as deeply connected to the land and the people. We move quickly through them and get all of our products from “some other place.” It is this power of place that Fernando and Lydia taught me and how I want to keep developing that in my own life.
The best part about my experiences with GYLI has been the deep connection to each “place”. Because of the deeply rooted communities and people with whom we interact it is no wonder the profound impact they all have had on me as an educator. The power of “place-based learning” is clear because it is rooted in what is local – the history, environment, culture, people, traditions, and economy of a particular place. We see, live, and feel commitments to collaborative leadership, pluralism, and celebration of identity of each person in every community we interact with.
At any point I can take a deep breath, put myself back in these places and remember why they are important to me, the teams I am working with, and our world as a whole. That’s the power of “place”. It leaves an indelible mark on our hearts and allows us to transport back to those memories, people, and places to help us regain a sense of purpose and direction in these tough times. I hope you can easily move your soul/spirit back to the places you connected with on your GYLI journey and ground yourself in the principles that they represent.