photo credit :: Elizabeth Duvivier
If there is a bigger challenge than finding our way through a world that holds both beauty and horror, I don’t know what it is. We all need a lamp and a guide.
Even Joseph Campbell, the scholar of mythology and religion, traveled all the way to a remote part of India to meet with a revered guru in India and ask him, “if I say YES to Life, does this mean I have to say YES to all of it?” Implicit in the question is– must we accept the duality where the exquisite harmony of the natural world is in direct contrast with the raucous, undeveloped human ego intent on propagating genocide, atrocity and destruction, as well as the unpredictable, inexplicable caprices of the powers that be.
The answer was, yes.
photo + art credit :: Danna Ray
Three years ago, December 2016, I announced that I was going to stop running Squam Art Workshops. There was more than one reason for this: I was tired; I wanted time and space to write; it was harder and harder for me to feel comfortable offering what seemed like an indulgence in a world that was on fire. It is this last bit that is with me this morning as I type to you (and why I mentioned the ongoing struggle with duality above).
I did try to stop Squam, but Squam would not be stopped. When I announced in September 2017 that Meg Fussell would be taking the helm and keeping it going, more than three different women, at different times, came up to me and said the same thing: I prayed for this.
And so, unbeknownst to me, there were far wiser souls calling in support for Squam.
I share all of this with you because it helps me to have perspective on what it is we do at Squam and what her gifts to us are. As Toni Morrison wrote as she broke through her depression following the 2004 US Presidential election,
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.
photo credit :: Tory Williams
Having a place to get centered, re-calibrate, connect with kindred spirits, nurture our creativity and sink into the sweetness of natural beauty is essential if we are to bring healing to ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our colleagues all of which ripples out to the world at large.
I can see this all now, so clearly, but only because of how these past years have transpired.
Where I had no confusion at all was realizing, as Meg and I worked side by side in the Spring of 2017, that she was the one to take this on. It was a moment of grace.
photo credit :: Meg Fussell
What Meg has brought to Squam cannot be easily summed up, but I will try.
Systems: On the backend, she has created dozens of systems that make the work flow smoother, but also lessens our environmental imprint. Meg reduced the use of paper and plastic by making reusable directional signs from wood, cloth name tags, and added online registration for all retreats and art fairs.
Spirit: Meg’s gentle approach and her profound connection to Nature touched everyone who came to Squam. Her outdoor class at last summer’s Norway retreat was a highlight of the week. And, despite her serious work ethic, Meg has a sensational capacity for silliness and light-hearted adventure.
Leadership: The teams that she created and led to run the events were everything you could hope for. Work hard, play hard seemed to be one of the mottos but also “we’re all in this together” as the camaraderie was palpable.
Heart. As anyone who has ever met Meg knows, this one goes without saying. She puts her whole heart into whatever she takes on and that is a gift without measure.
When we celebrated the “passing of the torch” in September 2017, I made Meg a mixed-media book full of inspiration and memorabilia. It also had a letter from me sharing all sorts of things as I tried to swiftly sum up ten of the most magical years in just a few words. It felt overwhelming to me and so I wrote,
I hesitated to write all this down because I’d hate for you to feel I was burdening you with anything as daunting as a legacy since it’s entirely possible after a year or two– you might decide your life path is going in another direction and this is not an endeavor you want to continue. Just so you know, I am totally fine with that– this may only be a brief stop on your journey– but, then again, the opposite could also be equally true as, from all I can see, you sure seem to have been born to do this so I’m gonna just go ahead and share my souvenirs– and if the day comes when you say “Thanks for all the twinkle lights, I’m out”– I hope you feel that I prepared you as best I could for the most successful, most satisfying, most enriching experience possible.
I revisited this letter a few weeks ago as I prepared the book to be handed off once again. I was very glad to find those words as the time has come for Meg to move on to the next chapter of her life and it helped us both so much to see that the door had always been open.
Last August, Meg let Mindy and I know that her heart was calling her in a direction away from Squam; it was time for her to pursue a lifelong passion of seeking work in outdoor leadership and conservation. In typical fashion, she stayed on all through the fall and right up to the end of this month to assure the transition to Mindy would be sound and complete. As you might know from personal experience, it is no easy thing to stay in a situation when your spirit is halfway out the door, but Meg did exactly this with absolute patience, kindness and enthusiasm as that is the kind of exceptional person she is.
And so, square in the middle of a month of endings and beginnings– new year, new decade– we have Meg leaving Squam just as Mindy takes on her role as Executive Director.
Moments of grace.
Last March Mindy and I were walking through the woods and I had the thought — with sunlight pouring over my shoulders, I kid you not– wouldn’t it be great if Mindy wanted to come on board? Turns out, this was a vision she had been holding for many, many years that I didn’t know anything about.
Here is some of what I wrote to Mindy in that “passing of the torch” book that Meg and I presented to her at the beginning of January.
You belong in this circle. You belong to Squam as much as Squam belongs to you. It’s a beautiful truth that has come into being over many years. So much of you is infused in everything around us: the iconic dreamcatcher that is now the Rainbow Wishing Tree, the colossal fabric swag that is always ceremoniously strung at the entrance to the Playhouse, the advent packages, the heart rocks that you tuck into the pathways– your spirit is all around us.
When I read back through your blog posts they provide all the signs that we couldn’t see at the time — and something you and I had never even talked about until last Spring– that heading up Squam was always your destiny. Funny how that goes.
In a blog post from September 2013 you wrote,
“For me, this time is always precious and energizing and I leave feeling lighter, another layer shed and left to fall deeply into the earth to nourish yet another season of life and love. I’ve come to this place by carving my own path (as always, so it seems) with passion and heart, giving what I can to receive the gifts in return, my inner compass guiding my way.
Squam is not just a place to me, it has been a doorway, one that I always knew I would walk through but just not in the way I expected.”
I love this image of the doorway that we are all seeking but how it shows up in ways we can’t anticipate which requires us to keep an open heart and mind if we are going to experience it. And it is your openness, Mindy, your capacity for understanding, your compassion for yourself and others which makes you so ideally suited to this work.
Wow– I know this is a long blog post, but things take the time they take. I feel so honored and blessed. I am really sitting in the richness of this moment and wanted to share some of that with all of you.
Of course, be advised, in my letter to Mindy I also wrote: “it is totally fine if it turns out that your time in this role is not forever, but simply another passage on your journey. It truly doesn’t matter as there is only this moment and in this moment you are HERE and I could not be more thrilled. Blessed be.”
Won’t you please join me in thanking Meg and wishing every good thing on her next adventure AND welcoming Mindy and letting her know how happy we are to have her magic lamp leading the way forward.
photo credit :: Amy C. Ware