Picture a Conversation

Where Do You Stand?

Second in a series.

I’m letting our Picture a Conversation cards inspire this ongoing essay series. Many years ago, Martin captured the image of these geese when we visited Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.

To add a bit of spontaneity to this essay adventure,  each week I am choosing the conversation card at random. This way I am forced to approach each topic with a fresh perspective. Oh, the Universe is a trickster. Had I been choosing deliberately, I would have left this card to the last. Like the intuition that leads cats directly to the feline-phobic, this card sidled up to claim my attention.

How does this happen, that the thing we do not want comes to us? There is much talk today about the energy we put out.  Positive or negative, our energy serves as a magnet of sorts, returning to us precisely what we transmit. Perhaps magnet is the wrong analogy. Magnets attract their opposite; they repel like poles. If negativity is one’s prevailing mindset, why doesn’t it draw positivity?  The guru in my mind whispers, Because that’s just not the way it works, Debra. The things we may fear, fight and dread come our was so we can face them, walk through the valley of our resistances and come out the other side hopefully wiser, expanded in spirit, strengthened by new insights.  

When I crafted the statement and the questions on the reverse of the card above, I thought about the parents and adolescents who might use it as a jumping off point for a meaningful conversation. Yet opportunities for loved ones, friends and colleagues to go head-to-head over any number of issues span all age groups. My daughter and I are navigating plans for her wedding. At the outset she said, “I want  planning my wedding to be as joyous as my wedding is going to be.  If we reach a wall we’ll hang up, cool off and talk to each other the next day.” Wise woman this daughter we have raised. 

I am discerning anew what flexibility feels like — united, gratified, content —  versus submission’s residue — squelched, diminished, divided against myself. Flexible allows me a sense of personal agency.  Submission stirs up feelings of impotence. Flexibility spreads before me choices whose breadth is limited only by my own imagination. Submission shuts down any possibility of choice or creative thought.

And what about principles? Which are ironclad and which would we modify or even set aside?  Are we unprincipled to reconsider certain principles we have stood upon, perhaps for decades? What, if any, are the costs and consequences and to whom? 

Of the 25 cards in the deck of Picture a Conversation, this one’s accompanying message was the hardest one to craft.  I love the image of these geese and their respective postures. Anthropomorphizing, I wonder what they are saying to one another. After Martin snapped his shot, we walked away. Perhaps they kept honking at one another. Maybe they switched stances. Then again, perhaps they went their separate ways for a bit, only to reconnect the next day, realizing that rigidity and submission kept them anchored in place. That perhaps by standing at the intersection of flexible and principles they could make way for new paths.

Use these geese to start a conversation of your own.  Recall a time when you and another had to “agree to disagree.” Was the relationship strengthened or diminished? How did you resolve the impasse?

Each Picture a Conversation deck has 25 cards and over 75  questions to enrich your relationships through meaningful conversations.  It’s a  unique birthday, shower or engagement gift. Are you corporate? Picture a Conversation will deepen your team-building experiences. Or choose a card to take with you on a walk with a friend or loved one.    To order a set, here’s the link. Expand the conversation! I would deeply appreciate your sharing this essay on your social media sites.  If you missed last week’s essay, here you go.


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A Memory Returns

First in a series.

I’m letting Picture a Conversation cards inspire this ongoing series of essays. Martin captured this image many years ago in California’s Huntington Gardens. 

Some weeks ago, I experienced the healing power of sensory memory. I doubt I have ever put those five words together before, but they capture the truth of a moment when mere touch opened a door to a long-submerged beautiful experience which in turn allowed me reconcile the loving and devastating ways my mother behaved throughout my life.   

I was attending a meditation workshop.  It had been enlightening and challenging. I was in the company of a small group of women whom I hoped found me as deep and delightful as I found them. 

“Before we go on,” our teacher said, “let’s take a moment to close our eyes and breathe. Place your palms on either side of your face. Starting at your scalp, gently let your palms travel down to your temples, then over your cheeks to meet at your chin.  Breathe quietly as you slowly repeat the pattern — open palms, scalp, temples, cheeks, chin.”

Before my palms even met at my chin I was weeping. The mere touch of my hands grazing my face instantly returned my mother to me. We were young. She was looking deeply into my eyes, her own eyes suffused with love for me. Stroking my face she said, “Sheyna velt. My beautiful world. Such a sweet heart-shaped face. My sheyna velt.”  I had completely forgotten these moments which, at one time in my life, were not uncommon.  

She called me chocolate-and-strawberry — chocolate for my dark hair and eyes;  strawberry for my pink cheeks. That she called my face heart-shaped made me feel that I was her Valentine. Yes, breathing quietly I felt her hands on my cheeks, I saw her unusual greenish-yellow eyes gazing into mine. A smile lit her face with love for me. I was indeed her beautiful sweet world.

As some of you know, or have read in a prior essay or two, our sheyna velt turned upside down. As the years went on there was less sheyna and more shouting, less velt and more viciousness that left me spinning in confusion, like a cartoon character whose head is haloed by a jumble of stars, lightning bolts and crazy lines.

But I stayed with the moment, my hands becoming her hands. I saw the arc of her life. A young, felicitous and loving mother whose troubles were yet to surface. An impetuous brilliant woman born in the wrong decade. A still beautiful, still brilliant seventy-something woman who turned down treatment when diagnosed with cancer. She went on to live four more years, years during which she excised me from her life even as she thrived in a new environment, making friends, illustrating publications, giving impromptu piano concerts several times a week. The why no longer matters; I could never answer that one anyway. Now, nearly ten years distant from her first salvo that left me keening in a public parking lot, I realize once again that our strongest lessons evolve from the greatest pain.

There are many spiritual understandings of the forces of opposition that inhabit us all. Jewish tradition teaches we are born with a pure soul that resides with us until the end. Equally embedded within us are twin urges — the yetzer ha-tov and the yetzer ha-rah — the inclination to do good and the inclination to do evil. It is up to us to hear the voice of the yetzer ha-tov over the cacophony of the yetzer ha-ra.

Native American tradition has a similar perspective. A Cherokee grandfather tells his grandson about the two wolves warring within all humanity. One is suffused with a grocery list of destructive traits — anger, envy, greed, resentment, falsehood, ego. The other’s list is just as long but contains qualities of peace, kindness, love, compassion, courage, faith. 

“Which wolf will win?” the grandson asks.

“The one you feed.” answers the grandfather.

I had always known my mother loved me. She delighted in me. She was proud of me and my professional accomplishments. Those early years of love came easily and joyously when I had my own sheynas velt. As my mother did before me, I would cover them in kisses. “Look!” I would call out. “Look at the beautiful world God gave us. See the newborn green of spring leaves? Look! A lady bug! A lightning bug! An ant, carrying such a heavy burden!”

What I couldn’t know then was what a heavy burden my mother was carrying. At the end, her yetzer ha-ra won. The wolf she fed, consciously or not for much of her life, ultimately devoured her. I struggled to reconcile these two mothers. How can someone who could stroke my face so lovingly, slap me from her life? Why couldn’t I summon the mother of my early years when her yetzer ha-tov was still in the lead?

My own hands brought the answer, allowing light to shine through the darkness. Intellectual memory can only take us so far.  I needed sensory memory to break open my heart and return my mother to me. To allow me to feel with my very skin what I knew I had been given, only to have seemingly lost it.

It has been many weeks since those strokes of revelation. Perhaps we have wolves of memory as well. The wolf of good memory has emerged from the thicket. It is becoming easier and easier to feed her.


Picture a Conversation makes a unique birthday, shower or engagement gift. Are you corporate? Each card  is a great ice breaker for your next off-site. Are you family? Begin a new dinner tradition. Picture a Conversation will transform your mealtime together.  Keep the conversation going. I would deeply appreciate your sharing this essay on your social media sites.  Order here

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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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