By Helene Szabados
“Solidarity is a beautiful word because it means that you reach out to those who are different from you and who have to cope with different circumstances because we recognize that we all share the same human needs and same values.” -Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese opposition leader & Nobel Peace Prize winner
The beauty of life is that we all have it; we all live a life full of experiences. The mystery of life, however, is that we all live through our experiences differently. The Peaceful World Foundation hosted Thursday’s breakfast conversation with the topic: “Life experiences and the importance of sharing our stories”.
We were pleased to welcome some new friends from a few neighboring organizations to our conversation. We started off with the icebreaker question, “When growing up, who was your favorite superhero?” We found that a majority of our guests favored Diana Prince, alter ego of Wonder Woman, due to her daring costume choice and confident attitude.
We then moved on to the topic of the morning, “Describe an event that changed your life.” Therese, Chief Operating Officer at No Bully, found her answer easily, speaking about her experience supporting her mother through ovarian cancer. Witnessing some of the medical situations her mother had to navigate lead her to pursue a position at No Bully.
Katherine, founder and executive director of Headstand, related to Therese’s experience and described the reality she faced when her father was diagnosed with cancer the same month she found out she was pregnant. She struggled with knowing that her father would never get to meet his new granddaughter. She remembered that many of her anxieties came from the type of care being administered to her father, and how switching to palliative care helped her to find the sense of relief she had been searching for. Palliative care is a compassion based approach to end of life healthcare, focused on relieving pain and anxiety and improving the quality of life for those with terminal illnesses. This helped Katherine come to terms with her father’s approaching death, knowing he would be well cared for in his last moments of life.
Nícola, VP of Cultural Conservancy, responded to the topic with a charming coming of age story. As a twelve year old in Colombia, South America, Nícola told her parents that she wanted to go to a North American summer camp she had read about. They agreed but when she arrived in the U.S. she experienced culture shock. She knew very little English and felt overwhelming nostalgia for Colombia. Her mother finally insisted she stop calling home so often and try to enjoy her time at camp. Nícola explained that although she would not take this approach toward her own children, she appreciated what her mother said because it allowed her to be free. She then went on to socialize with the other children, eventually picking up the language and customs of her new environment. This experience would later convince her to migrate to the U.S. when she was 19 years old.
Heidi, Peaceful World’s Program Director, related to being in a new environment and shared her story of joining the Peace Corps at the age of 25. She lived in a rural community in Madang province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and provided workshops and resources to the surrounding communities. She grew so fond of her new, wild home that after leaving the Peace Corps she decided to settle down in PNG with her former husband. Soon they found themselves welcoming a new baby explorer to their family tribe.
Anna Maria, also with No Bully, shared her experience moving to the States from the Philippines. She described her childhood as being effortless thanks to her family and community. She was treated like a princess, never having to clean up or cook, which gave her quite the shock when she moved to San Francisco with her mother, eventually experiencing homelessness first hand. She was fired from one job because, to her employer’s surprise, she didn’t even know how to mop. She said that although it was tough, it made her the person she is today and taught her how to take care of herself.
As the conversation wound down I threw out a final question; “What have I learned from all these shared experiences?” We paused to think about the greater lesson. We discussed two ingredients of a good conversation; differences – new point of view, and similarities – shared feelings and experiences.
We built a connection that morning, a group of individuals thinking about the same topic together, one question, each with a different answer. We are all unique, just like everyone else.