by Rachel Olstein Kaplan
The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
This October, I had the privilege of spending four full days at the ROI Facilitation Intensive, surrounded by the nurturing, inspiring woods of the Pearlstone Retreat Center and the Kayam Farm, and by the nurturing, inspiring presence of 21 other ROIers. More than a training, this gathering was an opportunity for reflection and for learning – not just from the facilitators, but from the incredible group of people gathered together.
I signed up for the training in order to improve my public speaking and presentation abilities, and to gain skills and insight about how to plan and structure conferences, gatherings and learning sessions. To be sure – these expectations were met and exceeded. I came away from the week with confidence in my own abilities and a clear, applicable set of skills, tricks, tips and principles about how to organize and execute a variety of gatherings. I look forward to executing them in my work at Yahel, as I facilitate service learning programs for young Jewish adults and help train others to do the same.
But these tangible skills, while incredibly valuable, were only a small part of what made this gathering so special. As the poem above, shared to us on the last day by facilitator Yoni Gordis, so beautifully suggests, this gathering dug far deeper.
During the course of the four days, the community of ROIers – and our two outstanding facilitators – became a supportive team of friends, colleagues and cheerleaders. I found myself enveloped in a space of total safety, where each of us felt comfortable testing our own limits, practicing new skills, sharing personal and professional details, laughing, crying.
For a group of 22 young Jewish professionals to be able to gather without any pretenses, ulterior motives or alternative agendas is rare to say the least. But this was the case. And what’s more – the community truly embraced each other, cheering for one another, offering caring, constructive and at times brutally honest feedback with the true and pure intentions of helping each of us become that much better.
At this gathering we explored questions about who we are, where we are going and who we want to be…
So what is it, Mary Oliver (and Yoni Gordis) asks, that I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? I hope to immerse myself in communities as supportive as the one I experiences this past week. I hope to help facilitate safe, open spaces for others so they, too, can share and explore and learn. And I hope that in some small way, I can provide the kind of support and wisdom for others that I was so blessed to receive at this gathering.