Before I found Gather the Women Global Matrix, I knew a grand total of three Canadians. All three of them lived in Port Angeles, Washington, when we were stationed there with the Coast Guard in the mid-1980′s. Gail and Lyle were from Victoria directly across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles. Lea was from somewhere in Ontario, I think, and married to Jay, a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard.
Ten years later, in 2004, I was retired and yearning for something meaningful to do. A friend used the phrase, “community building”, and that was the beginning of a new direction for me. Come summer, I was at Marsh House on Whidbey Island with Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin of PeerSpirit learning about Circle Practice. Anne Fitzgerald was there and mentioned “Gather the Women” and I was hooked.
My first GTW event was in downtown Los Angeles and that was where I met Kathe Schaaf and Clare Peterson from Vancouver Island. The conversation at that time was about having six conferences on six continents, a Big Vision that ran up against financial and logistical issues. My memory is of me sitting there with a little thought bubble over my head, “How can these women put on an international conference in Brazil or Australia with no money?” But in 2006, I was in Victoria, B.C. for the second Gather the Women International Women’s Conference. Hundreds of women came and it was thrilling to see the dream for a North American Gather the Women Conference come to fruition.
In 2008, I went back to Vancouver Island for a seminar on “Building Capacity for a Changing Future”, and I (the only American there) was with Clare. I also went to “The Art of Hosting” on Vancouver Island with all Canadians. My sense was that, being from Juneau, my American-ness was tempered with my sharing of the same waterway.
(Several times as I wrote this, I thought about checking on Facebook to see if I had the dates right, but the Facebook River has gone too many miles to row against that current.)
As one of the organizers of the Seattle GTW gathering, the memory of watching the Canadian women start to say something and be interrupted while in circle is still painfully fresh in my mind. We needed to ring the bell to pry open the space for them, and then extend ourselves to continue our attentiveness until they were complete. The Gather The Women gathering in Peterborough, Canada, was a catalyst for our organization’s growth, and the beginning of a invigorated Canadian GTW.
I am an uber-extrovert and it is a constant challenge for me to just stop talking and listen. This is a generalization, but after several years now of gathering with Canadian women, I have found that I need to slow down and “listen with intention”, as Circle Principles dictate. The humor is often subtle. The conversation in circle is thoughtful. The singing and movement is joyful, especially when Diane Jung is involved. My life is so much richer for knowing these women.
There is a tension and dynamism between our two countries that can increase exponentially the closer the border is, but when we gather in circle, we are women first and foremost. Ideally, the stereotypes disappear while our strengths complement each other.