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In this issue: The theme of this issue of Seeds is “making connections”. Given the often extreme polarization in the U.S. and in other countries, this is a subject worthy of deeper reflection. Moreover, the restrictions that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed on our lives have made it necessary for us to find new ways of connecting with one another and thereby overcoming, to some extent at least, any sense of isolation. At the same time, the pandemic has opened new possibilities of connecting with our inner selves, with Spirit, and with the beauty of the natural world. Our intention is to include one biographical sketch in each issue, starting with the present issue. We hope these articles will speak to your hearts and minds this Christmas season.
Table of Contents
- Introducing Meredith and Daelyn Reynolds by Meredith
- Connection by Anonymous
- Tribute to Paul Smith by Tim Lietzke
Introducing Meredith and Daelyn Reynolds
“I’m a Quaker, Buddhist chicken farmer” was, for many years, my stock response when asked to describe myself. A dedicated homesteader, I converted my entire yard to edible landscaping. ‘Fat Squirrel Farms’ was home to blackcap, red, and golden raspberries; blackberries, plums, figs, Nanking cherries, serviceberries, elderberries, strawberries, blueberries, goumi berries, pineapple, ground cherries, sunchokes and asparagus, not to mention a plethora of herbs. I cultivated Oyster and Shitake mushrooms on logs and tried my hand at beekeeping. I intensively planted vegetables year-round, mostly greens and peas in the fall and winter, but upwards of 70 tomato plants in the summer, along with lemon cucumbers, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, corn, beans, eggplant, and zucchini.
I made everything I feasibly could (yogurt, cheese, bread, soap, laundry detergent, candles, lamp shades, furniture) and had a couple of flocks of hens. I often felt happiest and most connected to God when digging in the dirt or creating something functional with my hands. My communities centered around the Atlanta Friends Meeting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where I began working in 1999 as part of the US Public Health Service, and my neighborhood. Most Friday nights I could be found at the Clarkston Community Center for contra dancing with a group who had been meeting weekly in the Atlanta area for over 40 years.
Everything changed when I decided to pursue motherhood. Within a year, my self-description became ‘I’m Daelyn’s mom.’ I jettisoned my beloved homestead, without so much as a backward glance, for a 900 square-foot condo with a few pots of herbs that abutted a beautiful city park and was walking distance to both Daelyn’s Spanish-immersion child care center and the Atlanta Friend’s Meeting.
Years before Daelyn was born, I knew I would retire from the US Public Health Service just as soon as I was eligible (June 30, 2019). I wasn’t sure what I would move to, but I knew working in an office at a computer didn’t really suit me, not really, no matter how passionate I felt about what I was working toward (improved health among young children through better nutrition, physical activity, and reduced screen time).
I’ll never forget the day Monteverde dropped into my lap. It was a Saturday afternoon in late fall. Daelyn was about eight months old. I had invited my friends from the Atlanta Quaker Meeting, Laura and Hannah and their months old triplets, over for a lunch of lamb ribs with injera. It was my first attempt at Ethiopian cuisine. During the meal, Laura, whose parents had worked as teachers at the Monteverde Friends School back in the 70’s, shared her dream of spending a year in Monteverde so their kids could attend the MFS and become proficient in Spanish. ‘You should come with us!’ she exclaimed. It was as if the skies parted and the angels sang. I knew immediately that was what I would do, except I would make the move permanently.
I had only been to Costa Rica once before, to teach a 2-week intensive Reproductive Health Epidemiology class to Masters level students at the UCR in San Jose. I had stayed an extra week for vacation to the Osa Peninsula, where a scuba diving incident nearly killed me, but had never been up to Monteverde. The thought of international travel as a single mom with a young child was daunting. But I had to visit. I mean, who up and moves to a new community without first visiting to verify? Daelyn had just turned 3 years old when we made our first trip. By then I was sure that resettling to Monteverde upon retirement was my best option. We had a delightful time with Siria and Alvaro, a homestay arranged through the MFS, and I returned fully committed to my plan.
It was an easy decision. I wanted to be in a smaller, close-knit Quaker community with a Quaker school. Though I loved the Atlanta Friends Meeting, from day 1 it felt too big. I was completely over living in a large city with horrendous traffic. I was disillusioned with the US public education system, horrified by the ubiquitous screen time and consumer culture and tired of feeling like every time I turned around someone was trying to feed my child sugar and fake, food-like substances. Though I had spent years working to improve the environment for young children in the US so that they might have a chance at being healthy and be spared preventable, chronic diseases, on the whole, the US didn’t feel like a healthy enough place in which to raise my child. And that was before Trump was elected president. I longed to get back to nature and was nostalgic for my rural upbringing in Michigan. I wanted Daelyn to be able to free-range and was committed to raising her to be bilingual, in part out of respect for her Spanish heritage.
All in all, it’s been a great move. We’ve had our share of tough times, like when I had a fever for 13 days straight the first month we were here and mostly couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t really know who to ask for help. But, overall, prior to COVID-19, I felt ridiculously happy with our new life in Monteverde. I
was thrilled to be able to reconnect to nature on a daily basis, to have our daily schedule simplified, to be able to focus on healthy eating and physical activity and becoming involved in the Quaker and wider community by joining the RE committee and teaching English at the MVI.
It often feels like COVID-19 set us back in terms of building and strengthening our connections in our new community. And it definitely has in some ways. But it’s also afforded us unexpected opportunities for strengthening connections. Spending time with others, while much less common, is treasured that much more fully and never taken for granted. I’m beyond grateful to be here. There’s no other place I’d rather be. I look forward to deepening our connections here.
Every crisis in my life has been about connection.
Connection seems to be the biggest need in my life and the one that brings the most satisfaction and the most pain.
When my mother had Alzheimer’s it challenged my understanding of relationships. There was gut wrenching pain, the private times when I cried until there were no more tears. There was the time that she told me that the girl was crying because she felt alone. I realized that the girl was me. She didn´t recognize me as her daughter but she understood my feelings. It was a matter of emotional survival to search for the sweetness and the lighter moments. There was this reaching for the mom that I knew but could only glimpse in brief moments that meant the entire world to me in that moment. If she couldn´t remember our history, then what was left? If she could´t remember who I was then, did we have a relationship? I had to wait for those special moments when she did recognize me. When I asked her if she knew who I was and she responded with, ¨my best friend¨, it was a joyful moment for me. A friend is a choice and a best friend is the most treasured. When she thought that I was someone else and talked to me about me, it was then that I realized how much she treasured her memories of me. While she no longer recognized me, the feelings of love and connection between us still remained. When my mother left the physical plane, over time I understood that her love for me and my connection with her had not died, it was endless and undying.
I had the same feeling of my son’s disappearing before me and my desperately reaching out to connect. I did´t understand initially that he was suffering from addiction. What I did feel deeply was the disconnect from the once close relationship that we had. As the addiction accelerated, it became clear what was going on. There was no more confusion about adolescent rebellion or possible mental illness. It was clear. I could either let it run it´s course (insanity, prison or death), complain about it, or fully immerse myself and hopefully him in recovery. I chose to make my life completely about recovery. He was a little less willing but went along for the ride. I began to measure my words to speak very little and, when I did, to speak to his spirit. No matter how chaotic his behavior was I could find something good and speak to that. I suppose that I was searching for the spirit through the haze of addiction and reminding him over and over again of his essence. Every glimpse that I saw of his spirit I spoke to it. We began our separate journeys through the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon. We read books, went to meetings, went to counseling, watched movies about it. I had completely lost myself in finding help for him and supporting him in his recovery. My drug of choice was helping and supporting his recovery. His drugs of choice were drugs. But both were truly about the disconnect from self, looking outwards for fulfillment rather than within. Rather than through finding peace within during the chaos, I believed that if the outside circumstances were okay I would be okay. He went to treatment and immersed himself in recovery. It was a slower process for me to reconnect with myself, to take care of myself, to remember what I enjoyed, to find my voice, to allow myself and others to be emotionally vulnerable, to set boundaries, to simply listen deeply and compassionately, to dive deeper into my spirituality.
These things that were so painful in my life were the things that were the most transforming. There is always a lesson and blessing if I can just trust and persist and do the work. It was as if I could only transcend from a place of deep pain and disconnect, a place of feeling forgotten and unknown and rejected. I had to sit with the pain and allow it to speak to me and then soften and dissipate. Out of this grew a different understanding of life and how to move through it and allow it to move through me. I had been looking for acceptance outside of myself when really all along that place was within. It was as if I was willing to continue searching until it was so painful that I had to make a paradigm shift. This thing that was my worst nightmare suffered in my waking hours became a pathway to higher consciousness. This thing that broke my heart wide open led the way to truly connect with this thing that I longed for: my essence and to deeply connect with that in others.
Tribute to Paul Smith
by Tim Lietzke
Almost everyone who knew Paul knew of his journey from dairy farmer to artist, musician, and environmental advocate. For him color and form were one medium of emotional expression, of reflecting the beauty that he saw in life. And so he painted what interested him and invited a close look, scenes from Monteverde and distant places he had been. In the months before his passing, it was in creating mosaics, however, that he most passionately labored. Now his mosaics adorn various buildings in the local area. Over the years he crafted a number of musical instruments which he also played. He diligently practiced to perfect his playing of Bach Suites for cello, in particular, and readily sought out opportunities to perform, not for money but simply to bring a little cheer. I think music spoke to his soul more than words could do. Deeply disturbed and challenged by our present climate crisis he solarized his home and had an electric bike and two electric/solar-powered golf carts that served for transportation. He loved to give rides, a free taxi service, as he characterized it. Much more could be said about his life, but I only came to know him in his later years, and so it is from our personal relationship that I want to express something of his character and impact on me.
Paul was a good friend. I can say that, first of all, because his was an openness of spirit that made it easy for us to connect. Several shared activities, especially, served to foster and nurture our friendship. The first was his teaching me to play the cello. One Sunday during announcements after our Quaker worship, he had offered the loan of a cello he had to anyone who wanted to play or learn to play it. I thought about it and decided to give it a try since I loved classical music and was not at that time playing either of the instruments I had learned in my youth, the piano and the organ. Paul was a patient teacher and not at all intimidating since he readily acknowledged his amateur status and pointed out improvements he wanted to make in his own playing. Our times together went beyond simply playing the cello, however. We also talked about personal matters and issues of social and environmental justice.
At some point Paul voiced his desire to write and publish his memoirs/biography, of which he had something of a draft already. I encouraged him to work on it and offered to edit it. I could see, though, that this was not going to be simply a matter of taking a manuscript home and working on it at my leisure. Instead, we ended up spending two or three sessions a week for several months, working through it together, page by page, probably an hour a page, reshaping the story, discovering unthought of interesting details, and drawing out the emotional and spiritual dimensions. Paul did this latter through art and music; words did not come easily. That whole experience of working on his book deepened our respect and love for each other and enabled us to discuss matters we rarely discussed with others.
Once I expressed my own loneliness and asked him if I could build a little living space off the corner of his house somewhere if my own situation became too unbearable. Without giving it a second thought, he said that I didn’t need to do that, that I could have the room next to the entrance, which at that point was serving as a storage space. That was the way Paul was, often acting without calculation or premeditation, spontaneously offering what he could in the face of a need.
This way of deciding matters played itself out in his own lifestyle as well. Two or three years ago he saw a video that impressed upon him the harm to the human body inflicted by an animal-based diet. He abruptly quit the latter and became a vegan overnight. My journey to veganism thirty years prior had been more tentative. While I stopped eating animal flesh just about as quickly as Paul, it was years before I took the additional step of becoming a vegan, and then only on a trial basis for a month, after which I have never given a thought to going back. That an 80-year-old man could make that change so easily was testimony to the power of the will to overcome the power of habit and the taste buds.
Paul’s pain at the slow progress this community was making in converting to solar energy production and electric vehicle use was so great that he became inhibited from talking about it with the not-yet converted for fear of becoming so upset that he would not be civil. We talked about that any number of times. In the end, though, I think he was at peace simply letting his life speak. Paul’s life has spoken in many ways and has sown many seeds in my own life and in the lives of many in this community and further afield. We can be thankful for the testimony of his life to creativity, beauty, and devotion to the vibrant earth community that sustains us.
I will miss him.