Monday, January 18, 2010

Talking to Squirrels and Other Animals

"If I judge people, I have no time to love them."
Mother Teresa
Last November, I was visiting a Girls on Track site.They were almost 2/3 of the way through the program.

We started our time together inside. The winter winds were whipping up outside and I wanted to have some "quiet time” to get to know each other.

We started with something simple. “So, let’s go around the circle and share our name, our age and our favorite music group." We went to my left and around.

I then introduced them to the notion that everyone…EVERYONE comes to earth with a set of gifts…these gifts are uniquely ours and how, when we use our gifts, the world’s work gets done. Some of us are writers, some of us are thinkers, some of us are politicians, some of us are leaders in the traditional sense and some of us are leaders in our own quiet way. “So…how ‘bout each of you sharing with me one of your gifts…tell us…what gifts have equipped you to do your world’s work?

The girls began to answer in no particular order. Jewel was an excellent friend. “I can talk to anybody. I don’t judge people.”
“Cool, I responded.”

Sierra was a writer. “I have really good ideas in my head and I enjoy putting them down on paper so that other people can see my ideas. I write for our school newspaper.”
“Excellent, I responded.”

Heather shouted out. “I can sing.”
“Will you sing for us now?”
“Really," she responded. "You want me to sing now?"
"Yes of course. Please, wouldn’t you guys like to hear Heather sing?"

"Yes," everyone responded in near unison. Heather sang a few bars of Taylor Swift. We all clapped when she was done.

Everyone had shared…almost. To my right was Maggie. I had noticed her when I walked in the thirty minutes earlier. Her sparkly eyes and her infections smile were enough to melt any heart…especially mine.

“Maggie, I notice you haven’t shared. Do you want to share one of your most fabulous gifts?”

“I’m afraid to. You will laugh" She took a long deep breath, pause and then looked to the ground. “They will laugh.”

I let her words sink in…not wanting to minimize or take away from her fear. Heather spoke up. “We won't laugh Maggie. We are all friends here. We can say anything.”

Jewel jumped in. “Yeah Maggie. It’s okay…really.”

She looked up at me. I know it’s there, but I am ALWAYS struck by the intangible that this program brings. The language of love that floats in and through the invisible space of our gatherings. I looked deeply into her eyes…remembered being eleven…so afraid to speak up…afraid of being judged…remember being 32, staring at my own reflection in the silver blade of knife’s edge… paralyzed by the fear of my own potential...a fear I had carried for decades…the hiding away of all the light and brilliance that was me…afraid of ridicule or even worse indifference.

“It’s okay. Maggie. We are all here for you girl.” Words I had so longed to hear when I was eleven.

“Alright then. Here goes.” Maggie looked to her lap, took a deep breath and then without any further hesitation, said. “I can talk to squirrels.”

I didn’t respond right away. I mean, to be completely honest, holding back a downright 'laugh-out-loud’ response was somewhat of a challenge. About all I could summon at first was “Wow."

No one else spoke and the silence felt too long, but I stayed with it anyway.

“Yep." Maggie nodded her head a bit more confidently now. No one had laughed. Her friends had listened. “ I can talk to ‘em…squirrels. I talk to them in my yard, the park, wherever they are.”

The reality that someone in our midst could talk to squirrels began to settle in.

Jewel, asked, “That is AMAZING. Do they talk back?”

Yeah…all the others chimed in. Do they talk back?

"Well, not really," she said. "The truth is I just seem to kind of attract them. I’m kind of like a squirrel magnet."

“Unbelievable” the girls responded. We had a regular Snow White in our presence.
For a good five minutes we talked about Maggie’s ability to communicate with squirrels.

"There is a lot you can do with that you know," one of the other girls said. "You can help the animals with a talent like that." And so the conversation went.

I walked away from this experience initially tickled…a kind of bubbly giggle made its way into my body. My step was light, up and bouncy.

But then as things so frequently do for me…the raw of this began to work its way into my being. The notion that something as simple as her ability to unequivocally and unabashedly share something so frightening, real and within… to her friends is where I believe true cultural change occurs.

Over the years, I’ve met many, many women. Each of us brings to this world our own story, our own experiences, our own Girl Box and our own talents. And over the years I have come to realize that what Girls on the Run does so profoundly and so richly is provide a deep level of tenderness and acceptance toward all of our sisters. Girls on the Run has opened my mind to my own propensity to judge and shown me that down deep…really down underneath all the judgment and intolerance what we all want really, is to feel important, fully accepted and unconditionally loved just as we are and where we are in our own personal evolution, whether its talking to squirrels, talking to ourselves or dealing with our own demons.

As large as this organization has grown, I think what is uniquely our gift to the world is our ability to keep it personal, simple and real…to open our minds to understand what drives a girl…a woman…an individual. Girls on the Run provides for every girl and every woman, regardless of the barriers, power differentials, institutions, belief systems and stereotypes she is battling in her own life, an opportunity to feel worthy, whole and warmed.

So our potential is limited not by any external source, but by those within. If we aren’t willing to both put our real selves out there and at the same time unconditionally love one another, how can we expect to create a culture for our girls where they do the same? How can we expect to fearlessly express ourselves and be heard if we do not fearlessly allow others to do the same and listen? How can we expect to be respected and honored if we only are willing to accept and honor those whose views match ours?

I believe that Girls on the Run, at its highest potential, is simply a place where people can reveal themselves and at the same time value, respect and embrace others who do this as well. To serve as a vessel, meeting ground and sanctuary where we don’t determine the context, or assume that any one perspective is ultimately the right one, but give the girls the tools to decide for themselves what is the right one. To give them the power, in a safe, loving and open environment to be the boss of their own brains.

I love how this program is growing, changing and evolving into a vessel of unconditional love…where all who come in contact, are tenderly welcomed and gently encouraged to explore, evolve and question the different routes to self-worth, contentment and empowerment in their way…in their own time and at their own pace.

I guess I've finally landed on that tie that binds...and it is indeed rooted in self-acceptance, mutual respect and...that's


  1. Wow! A great story that demonstrates what I think GOTR is all about. Acceptance, respect, appreciation and love.