Joanne Conger

A Long Gratitude

A year ago I was preparing to leave the On Being Gathering. We had just one more day. I had met the poets, peacemakers, and thinkers that I had admired. Parker Palmer had called me his “friend” (What?) I had sat with Naomi Shihab Nye for a few hours during one session and we had talked liked school girls passing notes in class. And, I experienced something so mind-bending, I had to stop the conversation: David Whyte and I talked of freindship and writing about freindship and why men seem to write more about friendship than women do. I had met Seth Godin, first, standing in line at the hotel. He looked at me and asked if he knew me. “No, but I am here for the gathering,” I said. He shook my hand and said, “I think it’s going to be an amazing weekend. Did you see all who will be there?”

And, that was the coolest thing of all: everyone known was just as excited to see all of the other “everyone known.” We all watched the friendship between Naomi Shihab Nye and Parker Palmer begin and then to grow. All of these well-knowns sat with all of us unknowns in the audience all four days like they were there as one of us. They felt like friends when we left. This magical thing we were all part of that would never in any of our lifetimes come, again.

I could not have gone if people had not helped me to get there. I made every minute count.

Seth stood and gave his lecture directly from the stage in front of the podium. He was open and urgent and seemed a compassionate general giving orders to his compassionate troops. He said something that explained a really important confusion I have long had. Why when someone becomes angry with me, I have very little ability to change their mind about my intention. He said:

“You can’t be curious and angry at the same time.”

Since then, I have seen how true it is. The relationships that survive are relationships that maintain their curiosity abotu the other. How they think or feel, what has motivated them to do one thing or another, When either loses curiosity for the other, the relationship can’t survive. It was life changing. I stopped looking to connect with people who seemed kind, or kind-hearted (because kindness is what I really needed from other people) and began reaching out to people who seemed obviously curious – about me, about the world, about themselves. Without curiosity, nothing can grow or last in a friendship. Curiosity and it’s very close companion, empathy.

I came to the awakening that without curiosity or empathy, people were going to have a difficult time understanding how I roll and both of us were just going to be miserable until it ended with nothing but pain and confusion. Honestly, that one statement changed the trajectory of my life in an instant. It certainly changed who it was I considered a friend.

I have shared his work for years but never had an understanding what a complete Bodhisattva he is. During his session that morning he was all about wanting to affirm for us that we are ready to be significant leaders in this work.

“Trust it. Trust it.” he kept saying. “Just trust it. You are.”

I was surprised I didn’t want to over-post all of the quotes and pictures and memories from this unforgettable weekend. It’s bittersweet, all of these memories from this perfect weekend, I miss everyone. I know I haven’t wasted a single moment, since. It still seems like a dream.

To those who bought cookies, and sent money for no reason, and encouraged me and gave me frequent flyer miles and paid for nights in my hotel, I’ll never be able to thank you, enough.

Forever, I’ll never be able to thank you enough.

Beauty As Well As Bread


“Garden and park-making goes on with civilization over all the world, for everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty hunger is made manifest in the little window-sill gardens of the poor, though only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the radiant rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National parks- the Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, etc.- Nature’s sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world.

Nevertheless, from the very beginning, however well guarded, they have all been subject to attack by gain-seekers trying to despoil them. mischief-makers and robbers of every degree from Satan to Senators, city supervisors, lumbermen, cattlemen, farmers, etc., trying to make everything dollarable, oftentimes disguised in smiles and philanthropy, calling their plundering “utilization of natural beneficent resources,” that man and beast may be fed and the nation allowed to grow great.”