Circles of Gratitude

On November 29th, forty of Anita McLeod’s dear friends, colleagues, and family members gathered at the King’s Daughters Inn to honor her memory on what would have been her 78th birthday. Randa McNamara and Karen Ziegler sang songs that were special to Anita, and Elizabeth Manley reflected on her time getting to know Anita in the 1980s when they were both nurses. Jeanette Stokes recognized the various circles important to Anita’s life, which were represented by the people gathered. Anita’s husband, Mike McLeod, offered some very moving words that he has allowed us to share below.

I want to thank Jeanette and the Resource Center for this gathering tonight to honor Anita and her legacy of women’s circles. It is my intention to support the Resource Center in continuing her work around conscious aging and intergenerational circles.

This would be Anita’s 78th birthday and she had said to me during her brief illness that she knew her 77th would be “big” but she had no idea it would involve this journey. It has been a heartbreaking journey for me and yet as I go day-by-day through this grief I have brief glimpses of joy and gratitude for the life we had together and all I learned from Anita. Whatever I say in the next few minutes are my responsibility and I do not pretend to say what Anita would say at this moment. As each of you know she would have clear and strong opinions on these topics.

Anita felt circles allowed the creation of a safe container where women could share their experiences and be received and affirmed in the circle and in doing this could discover their own truth, listening to their own inner source of wisdom. For Anita, circles involved levels of vulnerability and the courage to discover who we are meant to be in the face of a culture that promotes living on the surface of life. She felt circles generated an energy that could be given to the center of the circle or taken from the center to the individual, depending on the needs. Circles also led to a sense of belonging.

As most of you know, her first groups centered on menopause as a natural transition and the potential for transformation. It was not a medical issue.

Entering her 60’s she was looking for “the road maps,” going on a vision quest in southwestern Colorado, gathering groups around the topic of conscious aging, to be fully awake to all of who we are, healing wounds around regrets and forgiveness. What parts of ourselves did we leave behind growing up in our families and culture, like assertiveness, enthusiasm, creativity, and sensuality?

Later Anita was involved in end of life issues and intergenerational work like Heron’s Walk involving women’s circles in nature, and later involved in intergenerational writing groups.

A second focus for Anita was the sacredness of nature, including the waters and she went to the woods often to be restored and to seek answers to her questions. As Rilke said to the young poet: “love the questions,” “live the questions.” I would say, living with Anita for 55 years, that she lived her questions.

A third and final emphasis was the importance of courage. We had many conversations over the years around fear and wanting to frame it as our growing edge, to face our uncertainty and walk the path.

Anita combined curiosity and courage. Courage to go on a vision quest in her early 60’s. Courage was choosing open brain surgery to remove the cancer while she was awake communicating with the surgeon rather than just biopsy and radiation alone. She had been told patients in her age group were usually given the conservative treatment. After thinking about her choices over night, she ask Lucy, our granddaughter, to go on a walk with her on the ward, telling her she would not let fear be her guide and would choose open surgery. Courage was there when we had a meeting with the radiation oncologist mid-way through her treatment. Despite what look like excellent surgical results, her cancer rapidly reoccurred. At this point Anita was paralyzed on her left side and had said to me she could not envision a life going forward where she could not walk in the woods, be on the boat or be part of her women’s circles. She told the radiation oncologist she was stopping the treatment, not wanting to risk any loss of her mental function for whatever time that remained.

I will never forget what Anita said the first day after surgery, surrounded by our family, “this journey is about love and not just about me.”

These circles that will continue to gather through the efforts of the Resource Center are in their essence about love and the courage to open our hearts, letting down our protective walls, and willing to be vulnerable. Loving involves vulnerability, and as poet David Whyte says, are you “willing to live, day by day, with the consequences of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat”?

The late Angeles Arriens, an anthropologist, borrowed 4 principles from the indigenous cultures she studied. I feel Anita lived these principles, planting her seeds of wisdom.

1. Show up and be present.
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
3. Speak your truth without blame or judgment.
4. Let go of the outcome. (Walking the path of the warrior, teacher, healer, visionary)

I thank each of you for coming tonight. I want to close with a poem by Pema Chodron:

Genuine Broken Heart

In the middle of the chest, deep, deep inside
Something has broken
And it hurts almost all the time.
Sometimes it gives birth to anxiety, fear and panic.
Sometimes it gives birth to anger, resentment and blame.
Sometimes it gives birth to tears.
This is our kinship with all who have loved truly-
From beginningless time.
You, my dear friend, understand it well.
This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion.
It humbles the Arrogant and softens The Unkind.
This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great
It awakens those who prefer to sleep and pierces through
This continual ache of the human heart-
Broken by the loss of all that we hold dear
Is this not a blessing
Which when accepted fully, can be shared with all.