May Theme, Exchange

May 1, 2016

Join us this 2015-2016 academic year, as we take time each month to reflect on a theme as a learning community. Hear from faculty and staff in a personal reflection on the theme, as they consider how the concept applies to their life and work. See here for an overview of these themes, which will also be highlighted in each month's school e-newsletter.

The theme for our school community this May 2016 is "Exchange." How can we exchange communications that connect, are heartfelt, and meaningful?

Download (& save or print!) a PDF of this May 2016 Calendar.

Staff member Joanna Owen has written this month's personal reflection--speaking from the heart about how she has considered the theme. Joanna is the Operations Coordinator at the School of Theology and Ministry.

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Personal Reflection on the Theme, "Exchange"

By Joanna Owen

When I first started considering the theme of exchange I thought about all the good exchanges I’ve experienced. From friends and family to engaging professors I had, and then, my own students when I began to teach. But I don’t think I would truly appreciate the importance of exchange if it weren’t for the passing of my mom.

My mom was healthy one day and then she was not. In reality, the decline of her health was likely more gradual than that; after all my mom had multiple sclerosis and therefore struggled with her health and mobility for most of my life, but she still got around without needing assistance and was always an independent person in my mind.

It all changed when my mom caught what we thought was the flu. Worried, I convinced her to go to the hospital. One day she was cooking dinner and watching old TV re-runs and the next she was in the hospital with a hole in her leg the size of a football where emergency surgery had removed an infection and saved her life.  It was the closest I’d ever come to losing someone I loved and it made me reconsider our distant relationship.

The last two weeks of summer before I started university I spent every day at my mom’s side keeping her company in the hospital. It was the longest we had spent in each other’s company alone without the distraction of a television.

My mother told me stories I’d never heard before.  Her first crush, Steve, which didn’t end well. The strained relationship she had with her mother, and the even more tragic one my grandmother had with her mother. I learned that my mom had always wanted to be a veterinarian, but her mother told her she wasn’t smart enough—instead she became a preschool teacher. She told me that she always wished she had continued in college.

When university was due to begin, she insisted I not defer a quarter, and for the next four months I drove back home every weekend to see her while she healed. During that time I witnessed a strength in her that I had never seen before.

My mom was back home by Christmas break, and I spent that time cooking with her. She taught me her spaghetti sauce recipe, and how to properly layer a lasagna. I wrote down each of her imprecise directions—a pinch or this and a handful of that—into measurements I could understand. Suddenly there was an urgency to learning those recipes, passed down as memories from my great-grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother, and then to me. I didn’t want to waste time with idle chatter, but to share meaningful time with my mom who I’d almost lost. It was important to share the memories, the heritage, and what it meant to be family, while we could.

Then one morning in the New Year I walked into my mom’s bedroom and she was gone. That day, and the weeks after have a blurry quality in my memory. I remember vaguely the funeral preparations and trying to complete schoolwork without really processing anything.

I learned that exchange goes both ways—it requires both sides to be receptive and to participate. Exchange takes a kind of trust. For me and my mother, it wasn’t until we were both vulnerable that we opened up to each other and had a true exchange that was more than simple words, but was of ideas, stories, and even love. I am forever grateful for having those last five months with her so that I had a chance to really get to know her before she was gone.

Pictured left: Joanna's parents

Since my mom’s death my father and I have grown apart, and now that he is facing illness of his own I find myself worrying about how little real exchange we have anymore. When I visit him I wonder if I am trying hard enough to reach out, or if he is the one withdrawing. I wonder why illness strengthened my relationship with my mother, but is weakening the one I have with my father. How do I foster exchange?  For me, exchange is a conscious and ongoing effort.

Consider in your own life who you simply “talk to,” and with whom you hold meaningful exchanges with. Do you have people in your life you care about and who you would like to reach out to?  Take a chance and open yourself up to exchange with another. What you learn may change you.