By Susan Clarke
I am on my way home from the annual Faculty meeting at The Haven. It is a long trip with added frustration this year due to Olympic security in Vancouver. I had thought I would not make it. Now heading home, tired and weary from the travel I am very grateful I made the effort.
I have been engaged with The Haven for over twenty-five years. I’ve been through all of the core programs a few times, been leading programs for over a decade. I worked, lived there and in many ways grew up calling The Haven my home. Yes, arriving there many years ago thinking I was dying, I was given something to yearn for when I didn’t really believe I had any good reason to live. So it’s easy on a personal level to know why The Haven is home.
But it goes beyond personal for me. I was reminded in many ways this weekend not just why I love The Haven but also why I truly believe the place is special and needs to always be there. I won’t cover everything, but I will address two key reasons I think more people need to know about The Haven.
This year’s meeting provided some back-to-the-basics stuff for those of us who are long-time leaders. We started the first afternoon breathing with a partner. Doesn’t get much more basic then that. Fifteen minutes later I was reminded of how such a simple experience can be so transformative, grounding and connecting. We then spent the next few hours taking the time to speak frankly, honestly and deeply with each other. These conversations were one on one. Some short, some longer. Again I was reminded of how easy it is to avoid being open and honest. Yet, when structure and time is provided, defenses I didn’t even know were present drop. I not only discover the person sitting across from me, I rediscover myself.
After that it did seem easier to talk about some of the challenges we face and having some great dialogue about some issues that have gone unaddressed openly for a while. We didn’t resolve everything. But we were able to discover how we can disagree and still commit fully to going forward.
So the opportunity to walk our talk was awesome and that so many choose to do that with the time and structure provided was refreshing. I don’t know many places where leaders really take the time to do that.
The second reason I was reminded of how much I value The Haven came through an evening presentation about the experience of folks who are dealing with Transgender issues. I listened as someone I had known as a woman long ago who is now a man spoke about not just his own experience but a world that I fortunately have not experienced as harshly has many do. I realized as I listened how grateful I was that I had lived and learned at The Haven how to be accepting of people.
I wasn’t really the most normal person growing up. I had found a way through learning disabilities, being a minority, living through some darker aspects of life in my childhood and when I finally decided to deal with some of that I didn’t go for counseling, I went to The Haven. I wasn’t labeled or alienated. I was listened to and given a place that somehow made my crazy life seem normal enough. I grew beyond all the crazy happenings of my past and realized that life was in the moment, not in holding on to my story. In listening to the presentation I realized just how fortunate I was because many do get labeled, hated, alienated and walk a much lonelier path. That path is even called ‘health care’ sometimes, but it really sounds quite inhuman and not so caring.
I think I had wondered about the topic, was it the right topic for us? Mainly because I hadn’t had lots of experience with transgender as a label. But I so loved the way the presentation was so real and people’s response was so personal and affirming that indeed The Haven is a place to come with any label and be given the space to live where labels really aren’t that important. Labels seem to just drop away, the so called good ones as well as the not so popular, and people show up and relate and discover themselves beyond whatever label they came with.
I love that about The Haven and I am very grateful I have been reminded once again why The Haven such a special place and why I keep going back even if it is a very long trip!!
Susan Clarke is a member of The Haven core faculty. She is leading Come Alive in February and October this year and Living Alive Phase I in May. This article first appeared on her own blog – susanbclarke.com