Debra Darvick

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Conversations that Count — My Brother Is My Friend

Having maintained their sibling connection through phone calls and occasional visits, two brothers switch gears. The ensuing face-to-face conversations bring them closer as brothers and transform them into valued friends as well.

Alan (l.) and Larry

For 68 years my brother (six years my elder and my only sibling) and I have always enjoyed a pleasant relationship, one full of harmony and cooperation in family matters and lacking in conflicts. Living far apart during the past few decades, we nevertheless have managed brief visits and regular phone chats. Although we have been pretty friendly, I did not feel we were close friends. Our approaches to life were different, and so I believed there were limits to how deeply we could share, which to me is the hallmark of a real friendship.A few months ago, Alan texted me, asking that we be more than just brothers but genuine friends, too. In a phone chat, he said he has recently been seeking spiritual guidance to discover more about his life and improve it in several ways, as I have been doing for a well over a decade. He wanted to pay me a visit for several days — just him — without other family members around. I was a bit surprised and greatly elated for us both.

During our four days together, Alan and I did touristy things: ate good meals, hung out with some of my friends, hiked the trails here in Sedona. But mainly we had conversations – long and leisurely, deep and wide, emotional and spiritual. We addressed personal and philosophical topics that we’d never really discussed before, sharing much more from the heart than the head. In short, we crossed a bridge from being casual brothers to true friends. 

I am moved when I ponder how significant this transformation of our relationship has been for me. I always knew Alan was a nice guy; now I know him to be a treasure of a friend. Since our face-to-face meeting, we have deepened our connection with longer-than-normal-for-us phone conversations. We have rebooted our awareness of the love, joy and peace we share. The evidence is our longer and deeper phone conversations and plans to visit each other more often.

                                                             by Larry Rosenberg, Inspirational Entertainer, The Larry Show

 

(Craving the connection that only a face-to-face conversation can bring?  Head on over to our order page and give yourself the gift of conversation. Have a conversation that counted in your life? Email me — debra at pictureaconversation dot com)  

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Stopping by a Tree on a Summer Evening


I witnessed a miracle this evening. Some wouldn’t think miracle, merely Nature doing her thing. But I stood spellbound and in awe for nearly 40 minutes as a cicada birthed itself — slowly, slowly, ever so slowly unfolding into life, enacting the silent conversation coded into its DNA.

Walking home from yoga the pale shade of green lichen covering a tree trunk called to me. If you were a kid and had rendered this tree trunk in green, especially this light grey-green celadon shade, the teacher would likely have told you, No, sweetheart, tree trunks are brown. Or maybe, if you got lucky and had a kind teacher, she’d praise you for your Fauvist leanings.

Then I saw the cicada, 2/3 of the way out of its papery brown chrysalis, head down as if emerging from a birth canal. Its eyes were obsidian black. Its legs were folded tightly over its abdomen. Its wings were mere apostrophes tipped in bright green and held tight against its body. Could it see me? Should I leave it be? Not watch this intimate act of life coming into being? Not stand there while this oh so common yet nevertheless sacred act played out before me? I couldn’t tear myself away.

It hung there for a good ten minutes and then sproing! the lowest pair of legs began trembling, extending outward into the evening air. Bent at an odd angle, they reminded me of the crank handle Half-Pint would turn to raise and lower the water bucket on Little House on the Prairie. Next to unfold were the remaining two pairs of legs. After another rest, the cicada leaned forward, grasped the now-papery chrysalis with its front legs.The remaining four legs pushed against the husk until it flipped its bottom out and was suddenly upright. Entirely separated from its crinkly home, it clung with all six legs hanging for what seemed like an eternity.

 

Look closely for the orange spots on its forehead and the secondary wings appearing

During that eternity, its wings began to unfold — transparent, veined like one of Chartre’s stained glass windows. A few minutes later a smaller second pair of wings began to delineate themselves beneath the primary pair. A Batman-shaped pattern emerged on the cicada’s back and next, a constellation of orange dots appeared on its forehead. Fully formed the cicada hung there. And hung there. And hung there.

 

 

I grew impatient. Hurry up! Part of me itched to tease it free with a twig. I didn’t. Promise. My mind began wandering. Anthropomorphizing. How often do we hold onto things that we no longer need? It takes so much strength to let go of old supports! So much gumption to separate and fly free. The cicada, perfectly upright now, wings no longer apostrophes but complete and ready to beat, nevertheless clung to its see-through shell.

See the Batman tattoo? The secondary wings are now fully visible

How often do we urge our children forward before they are ready? Or steep in impatience as they march in synch with their own inner metronome? I left before the cicada made its final separation. No coincidences, I thought as I headed home. Today is my daughter’s thirtieth birthday. As you’d imagine, all day memories of her birth flitted through my mind — the early twitches and twinges that coalesced throughout the day into stronger and stronger contractions; the long evening at home as waves of labor swelled and crashed within me; then the ride to the hospital where, after ninety endless minutes she was ours to hold, ours to count finger and toes, ours to stare into her huge black watchful eyes. Her hands were purple and I feared something was awry. Her little lungs, like tiny bellows, hadn’t yet inflated more than a time or two. Soon her hands pinked up.

Today, those hands create beautiful art. Her feet take her on her own path in her own time. Her eyes are still obsidian dark. They see so much, too much I sometimes think because her heart is so big and it breaks. Yes, time and again she pushed against me to free herself. And yes, there were times we both clung too long. I won’t take this metaphor any farther. I am not a husk; not even close. I watch her from afar now. Flying free she soars. Her wings are veined with determination. And I, I witness miracles.

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Conversations that Count — What it means to be heard

When we consider the word “conversation” what usually comes to mind is the talking. On the cusp of adolescence, Lynn Margolis experienced a conversation’s crucial other half — being listened to. It set the course of her life. Second in a series from Picture a Conversation™.

Ernest Ludwig Kirchner

My parents were Holocaust survivors. As it has for many American-born children of immigrants, the role of pseudo-adult fell to me — translating for my parents when necessary, interpreting the myriad of customs and expectations of their new lives here in America, learning much younger than my peers how to negotiate the purchase of a car. My parents were loving but had so much to cope with. In addition to being immigrants, they were  grieving the utter decimation of their entire families at Hitler’s hand. In many ways, I did not have the luxury of being just a regular American kid. In the role of family communicator, I had no adults in my life who I could talk to about life’s larger issues.

My brother’s father-in-law was a very warm and loving man who was a professor of psychology at MSU whose family stretched back five or six generations.  One afternoon I tagged along with my brother to visit his wife’s family. This must have been 1968 or ’69 and at one point during the afternoon, his father-in-law was discussing with his two daughters the professions and various paths open to women in the work world. He took me into that covenant of daughters that afternoon, making space for me to contribute to the conversation even though I was not his daughter and no more than thirteen at the time.  I experienced being listened to in a way my parents had never been able to do. I’d never known any parents who listened to their kids the way this man listened to me that afternoon.

It was nothing in particular that he said, no words of wisdom, or offering of his perspective on what I might or should do one day. He simply saw me, recognizing who I was at the time and giving me the space to find my voice. The way he listened to me allowed me to feel that what I was saying mattered. I decided then and there to become a social worker.  We can say say so very much simply by listening, truly listening. 

 

(Craving the connection that only a face-to-face conversation can bring?  Head on over to our order page and give yourself the gift of conversation. Have a conversation that counted in your life? Email me — debra at pictureaconversation dot com)  

 

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Conversations that Count — How do you know, Mom?

Zelda’s daughter asked her mother how to tell if he’s The One. The answer surprised her and instantly became her rule for knowing.  First in a series from Picture a Conversation™.    

Pablo Picasso

“I was getting ready for a date.  I really liked this guy and was kind of excited about going out with him again. Waiting for him to arrive, my mom was fiddling with the back waistband of my pants. Or maybe she was straightening my belt? I don’t  remember exactly, but she was sitting on my bed behind me and I was standing with my back to her.  She was talking to me with her cigarette dangling between her lips as usual.

‘How do you know, Mom?’ I asked.  ‘How do you know when you’ve met The One?  How did YOU know with dad?’  She stopped with the fiddling and backed away from me a bit.  I can still see her today.  She leaned onto one of her knees, took the cigarette out of of her mouth and exhaled a big cloud of smoke holding onto to it between her first two fingers.  She looked down at the floor for a bit then looked up at me.

‘You never know,’ she said. ‘It’s just a matter of what you’re willing to put up with.’ 

‘That’s it?’ I asked.

“That’s it,’ she said.

I was expecting a long answer filled with advice or maybe cautions. Or maybe to wait for some magical kind of feeling that transported me to I don’t know where, SOMETHING. But no. Just that one sentence.  It was so HER.  No BS, flowery words or magic. Just raw and straight the point.

I’ve kissed a lot of frogs in my time and even had a few close calls, I mean engagements.  About three years later I met my husband.  We dated for 7 years on and off before realizing that he was “my guy”.  We’ve been married now for eighteen years. My mom was right. It really IS ‘just a matter of what you’re willing to put up with.’ Magic and flowers don’t hurt either.”

 

(Craving the connection that only a face-to-face conversation can bring?  Head on over to our order page and give yourself the gift of conversation. Have a conversation that counted in your life? Email me — debra at pictureaconversation dot com)  

                                                           

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Once and Future Conversations

Picture a Conversation ElephantsOur daughter-in-law jokes that our newborn granddaughter is part baby elephant. At four weeks, Olivia has a full repertoire of snorts and snuffles, back of the throat raspings and full-throated cries that trumpet, “Somebody better feed me and change me, NOW!”  Olivia and her devoted mom are embarking upon a mother-daughter conversation that will last their entire lives.

As for me, one of her devoted grandmothers, I look forward our own conversations.  I adored that brief window of my kids’ verbal development as they acquired language but not the filters that kept their words, and thus their thoughts, hidden. I savored their funny phrasings and crystalline insights, all the more stunning for coming from such wee beings.

Look, Mommee! Olivia’s father said to me some three decades ago.  Bubbles!  IMG_1769He was pointing to a set of iridescent crystal goblets we’d received as a wedding gift. What poetry to see the world through my son’s eyes. There was the time he pulled me to the window to point out the falling snow.  “Look, Mommee.  Doesn’t the snow make you think of God?” “Oh yes, little one. Yes, indeed.”  I thought then.

 

IMG_1771What kinds of conversations will Olivia and I share?  Will we read about Noah’s ark  and imagine together how God might have dreamt up the giraffe and the peacock? Whence came the idea for kangaroos and starfish? Or why sunflowers have dozens of petals and tulips so few? What will be her talk on the changing leaves as fall overtakes summer? Or what it feels like to  jump in a pile of leaves or build her first snowman? As time passes, our conversations may well turn to deeper issues — squabbles with friends,  frustration with her parents’ sage rules and boundaries, broken hearts and promises.

But until then, I savor Olivia’s cries and whimpers, the outsized snuffles coming from one so new.  The conversations will be here before I know it.

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An Afternoon of Conversation at All Seasons

huge-2016_04_21_3728No matter how much you plan, when you’re doing something for the first time, you never know if reality will match up with your vision. The goal of the Picture a Conversation ™ program my husband and I created for the senior residents at All Seasons of Birmingham (MI) was to inspire a sense of community and encourage the residents, many of whom were newly arrived, to begin to get to know one another.

Martin and I planned a short talk about our own “creative conversation.” He spoke about his philosophy as a photographer and what draws him to a scene. I talked about the inspiration I draw from his images that guides me in writing the meditations and discussion questions featured on each Picture a Conversation card. Following this short Powerpoint presentation, our plan was for the residents, in groups of three or four, to use individual cards and engage in some talk and sharing. My description sounds so artificial and staged.  But I knew from our testing days that when people just take that first step and start talking, everything flows.

Those were the hopes for our afternoon at All Seasons, although there was a moment that gave me pause. A man with a walker looked into the room and said, “I’m not sitting with any women.  I’m tired of hearing about grandchildren and gall bladder operations!”  He hesitated in the doorway until I gestured toward three men sitting together.

After watching a few more residents slowly make their way to the various places we had arranged around the room, I realized that my plan to have them move to different tables for each conversation session would be a disaster.  Instant modification — instead of having them change tables, we’d just bring a new topic to them.  That worked. Seven women had gathered themselves together despite our setting up tables of three and four.  I knew this would hinder conversation, but they insisted on staying put.

L. J., Williams, the Life Activities Director, timed the program right before dinner in hopes that some new table companions might be forged. There were snacks, lemonade and wine on hand to help oil the skids.  Martin and I went from table to table, sharing in the conversations a bit, helping to move things along when needed.  When I came around to the group of seven women, I saw that they had divided themselves into three and four and were talking away. After about fifteen minutes, we called a short break for more food and drink and to distribute a new conversation card.

By the second conversation session, everyone was comfortable and jumped right in.  We looked around the room, thrilled to see all the residents, even the gallbladder averse man, engaging with one another.  There were smiles on people’s faces, They were animated and laughing together. I worried that there was so much talking going on that it might be hard for some to hear.  No matter.

What does fun look like to you?

What does fun look like to you?

For the third round, we moved from small-group conversations and opened the last question up to the entire room.  The card we chose features a snowman on the front; the reverse offers three questions about making time for fun in our lives.  I invited L. J.  to speak first and he talked about walking his dogs and the opportunities those walks bring him for connecting with his new neighbors.  He called out for other responses and several hands reached for the mike. One woman talked about the activities she enjoys at the residence. Another spoke of family times. The last woman rose to speak said this, “We all have come from different places.  We all have families.  But you are all my family now.  I have fun with you.”  Applause sounded from all corners of the room.  IN that moment, reality bested my imaginings.

As I reflected on the afternoon, the 1985 movie Cocoon came to mind. If you’ve seen it you know the scene when the aging residents of the retirement home dive into the pool of the house next door and are instantly rejuvenated as they swim through the life-force infused water. It doesn’t take Hollywood. It doesn’t take magic water.  All it takes to come alive is to have a great conversation with people eager to listen and share from the heart.

 

If you’re interested in our hosting a similar program, please contact us —                                              debra at pictureaconversation dot com.

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The Conversation Beneath the Conversation

debra-emma-walking-down-the-streetWe weren’t sworn enemies but we had had words. Well, she’d had words with me while I held my tongue. At the time, my daughter thought I was a being wuss, especially because I’d never called this mother about the times her daughter had hurt mine. During the conversation in question, I said what I thought was appropriate — that our daughters, at fifteen, could settle their own differences; if she wanted to meet with me we could do so with our girls and the school counselor. She said I was an unfit mother and a phony. In my mind I was taking the high road but was my daughter right? Should I have responded in kind,  recounting  the times her daughter had mean-girled mine to the point of tears? My pounding heart closed my throat on a whole ton of words, all justified. For months I silently castigated myself. What kind of a mother doesn’t stand up for her daughter, or herself, in the face of such an attack?

We’ve bumped into each other from time to time. I decided long ago to take a page from the “kill ’em with kindness” rule book.  When I saw her at the post office a few years ago, she hesitated. “Come,”    I said moving toward her. “It’s time for a hug.” We caught up on where our daughters were and what they were doing. Hers wields a scalpel; mine a very cool iPad stylus. They are both healing lives and spirits in their chosen professions.

When I saw her this week at a show, I moved from behind my table to greet her and give her a hug. She hugged me back. She looked good; I looked good.  The kids are good.  All is good. Thank God.

I knew way back then the source of her pain, and that’s why I had held my seemingly chicken-hearted tongue. I knew then, as now, that I wasn’t walking in her shoes.  This week I heard more consciously another layer of the conversation that had kept me quiet all those years ago. Because this is likely what the mother was really saying: “It’s not fair your daughter is healthy and mine had cancer. I’m furious that your daughter has gorgeous long dark hair because I’ll never forget the months my daughter had none. You are unfit because in the darkest parts of my soul I fear I am unfit, else why did my daughter have to suffer through chemo? You may think you have all the answers but I cannot find the answer to this question: What did I do to make my daughter get cancer before she even got her period?

In our rational moments we all know how little of this great big life we can control. And yet as mothers, we still feel we should, and ought to, have the power to keep monstrous things from hurting our children.  So when X and I cross paths, I greet her kindly.  I hug her because were her shoes ever on my feet, I don’t know how I could cope. Maybe on some level, my hug is an irrational talisman of hope that my kindness today will bless my daughter, keeping her and even her one-time nemesis,  safe for a lifetime of tomorrows.

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Sign Me Up

See you on the roads!

See you on the roads!

It felt weird.  Squirmy. Way out of my comfort zone to say the least. My husband thought it was a terrible idea, convinced it wasn’t worth the money. I’m used to that being his set point. It’s what happens when a creative marries a realist. The creative is all about taking chances, each one a stepping stone to something greater; the realist is all about the cost of the mortar and being sure everything stays safe. He shared my feeling that doing this was a wee bit déclassé. But it wasn’t like I was planning to walk up and down Woodward Avenue dressed in a panda suit, flailing my arms and shouting at passersby.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

All we were talking about was ordering a magnetic sign for my car. Thirty bucks tops. I’m sure I could have gotten it cheaper online but supporting our local business owners matters to me. On a whim I stopped into Fast Signs Birmingham and got a sense of what was possible. Two days later I had my sign.

Andy walked me to my car and waited as I decided where best to position it.  Once it was affixed, I realized this sign was as much car art as it was advertising. I was offering up to my fellow drivers a beautiful photograph that would dance through the traffic as I went about my day. Maybe someone wavering about making a life change will see the sign and take it as a message (a sign!) meant just for her. Or him.  Perhaps the butterfly will bring a smile to someone having a bad morning. Will this generate orders or increase my website traffic?  Time will tell. For now every time I get into my car, I’m reminded that if you don’t step out of your comfort zone, you’ll never take flight.

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Time for Some Chutzpah

Wisdom Card

Whose wisdom has made a difference in your life?

When I have three conversations in a week, all variations on the same theme, I know something is afoot.

Conversation number one was with a fellow writer.  Some years ago she wrote a beautiful memoir about raising her severely disabled son.  She told me that she had decided to stop giving the book away because it was just too much trouble.  I asked her what she meant that she was giving the book away.  Just that she said.  She wasn’t charging anything.  Not even postage.  Someone asked for ten books and out they went.  I asked her why and she said that she didn’t feel comfortable asking for money and she was OK with that.  But she was tired of shlepping to the post office. Her compromise is to send people a link to a free book download from her website.

Conversation number two was an email exchange with a friend, a brilliantly creative calligrapher who also paints and has designed tile and glass installations as well. In last week’s blog she described her participation in her city’s beautification project thus:  This summer I was asked to put paint on a utility box.

“Putting paint on a box” is how she devalued her creation and execution of four vibrant murals painted on an enormous metal utility structure.  I couldn’t help but reframe reality and send it to her: She, among other superlative artists who reside in this major North American city, was chosen to be a part of said city’s beautification plan.

Conversation number three was with a friend I’ve known for 40 years. She knows me better than anyone but my husband. I was sharing with her an ongoing frustration with a loved one. Although we were speaking over the phone, I could feel how intently she was listening.  She offered her response in broad terms about the human condition and the ebb and flow of all loving relationships.

“You are so wise,” I said. “You have such a way of listening carefully, without judgement. Some how you invite people to see their situation from a slightly different perspective, shifting maybe only five degrees, but it makes such a difference.”

“You said that once long ago,” she replied.  “You called me wise. I had the chutzpah to believe you.”  She is now in rabbinical school and is training for chaplaincy work with hospice. The world is already a better place because in that moment when I praised her for her wisdom, she chose to own her gift.

We have to have the chutzpah to believe in and to claim our strengths!  Not dismiss them as insignificant, but all out recognize that we have each been given something that is distinctly ours with which we can better our corner of the world. Whatever it is, it is of value. We shouldn’t feel dirty asking to be respectfully compensated. We shouldn’t minimize or downplay what we have to offer.

Having the chutzpah to own our gift doesn’t mean we’re better than anyone else. I’m a good writer. I move people with my words. I enlighten and entertain. I’ve even caused a few conflagrations. I’m taking that gift in a new direction with Picture a Conversation™ — inspiring people to deepen their relationships through the simple act of having a conversation. I’m a good writer, yes, and one who can be peevish, short tempered, a procrastinator. I’m still working on not offering unsolicited advice to my beautifully adult children. But I do not duck when praised for my writing ability. I’m good at what I do and am thrilled when I hear my advice column has helped someone or that my children’s book is a treasured favorite.

Enjoy your gift. Share it joyfully. Revel in it and grow it. Be comfortable expecting compensation. You’ve been given something no one else has been given. Have now the chutzpah to own it.

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Caught in Conversation

 

Darvick-Picture-a-Conversation-IMG_2408

L-R: Edie (Catholic), Judy Lewis (Jewish), Bro. Al Mascia, OFM (Catholic) and R. Kahn (Muslim) Co

Caught in Conversation is the brainchild, or maybe I should say heartchild, of Mary Gilhuly. Because I don’t know that the brain could come up with, and keep advocating five years for, a gathering of Jews, Christians and Muslims to come together for dinner and conversation. The brain would serve up a heap of reasons not to — it could get heated; who would show up?; why bother?  where ?

I’m one of Mary’s tiling volunteers at Song and Spirit. For the purposes of this post however, Mary was the force behind this week’s Caught in Conversation held at the Muslim Unity Center here in Bloomfield    Township. Over one hundred people signed up.

Envision the setting — twenty tables covered with white cloths, each one set for six.  I know, it sounds like the set up for a joke — two Christians, two Muslims and two Jews show up for dinner conversation.  We began with blessings led in turn by Hazzan Steve Klaper, Imam Elturk of IONA and finally Brother Al Mascia. Whispers in Hebrew, Arabic and English rolled through the room, three quiet waves of gratitude for the meal before us.

I was a bit trepidatious. How would I, a pro-Zionist  Jew feel in a Muslim community center?  Would the conversations be stilted? How was this really going to work? The most contact I’ve had with women wearing a hijab has been a casual wave around town. But I believe in the power of conversation; how could I miss this?

Darvick-Picture-a-Conversation-IMG_2409Over felafel sandwiches, chicken rollups, and salad we introduced ourselves.  At our table was a Catholic man who serves on Song & Spirit’s Board of Directors; a young man who is making his initial vows to become a Franciscan friar; two Muslim women, one a doctor, the other an attorney;  a Jewish woman I know from tiles and me. It was an evening of learning; a night of uncovering similarities; a meal over which assumptions were set right and customs were shared.

The doctor at our table recalled her surprise upon realizing the parallels between  Muslim and Jewish burial customs. The board member assumed that rabbis, like Catholic priests, do not marry or have families. Not true, but without an evening like this, how might he have ever known? The young man beside me, a postulant in the Franciscan order, told of us his plans to become a friar —  pursuing a divinity degree, taking vows of poverty and celibacy. It was quite moving hear a young person filled with such dedication to his faith eagerly on a path so different from that of his peers. Adjacent to our table, six mothers discussed the challenges of keeping their teens connected to church, mosque and synagogue.

The six of us discussed Original Sin and how something that is expunged by baptism in the Catholic faith doesn’t exist for Jews or Muslims.  We learned of a moving Muslim birth custom — whispering the call to prayer into the ear of a newborn so that the first words the infant hears are sweet words of tradition and not the whisperings of any evil spirits that might be hovering near by. It made me wish that I had whispered the Shema to Elliot and Emma at their moments of birth.

Granted, we were a self-selected group open to learning and new experiences. The night’s purpose wasn’t to solve global crises, but to engage in positive religious dialogues that the world beyond our dinner tables rarely notices or envisions. I think we all felt a sense of safety from the pundits and politics. The briquets of today’s rhetoric-soaked sound bites fuel little that brings harmony within or without. Our goal was to lay down a few hefty logs of community and kindle them with hope and conversation, not ignoring our religious traditions but because of them. I wondered if such a gathering could happen anywhere else in the world but America.  Likely in Israel. And Canada. But France? Lebanon? Egypt? Last night was about being ourselves and bringing ourselves to the table precisely because we are Americans of different religions.

As I was leaving, one of the women from the Center called out to me that she hoped we would do this again.  I said I hoped so.  In Sh’Allah, she said. I nodded, which prompted her to ask if I knew what it meant. “Of course,” I replied. “It means Baruch HaShem. May it be God’s will.”

I’m not so Pollyanna-ish to think that an evening’s program will change the world. But you have to start somewhere and a civil, engaging and heartfelt conversation is a pretty good place to start.

 

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