Here's What I Think About That

Willingness and Commitment


I don’t need an alarm to wake me up anymore. The birds announce the time.

At last dusk, I walked into a big field thick with daisies. There was plenty of light left for picking and plenty of flowers to pick. Funny how excited I get over free daisies, while I shun dandelions, buttercups, and a long list of other pushy invasives.

My mission was to make a small crown of flowers and fronds to wear atop my head for the summer solstice sunrise swim. I’m not much of a celebratory person, but I do love welcoming summer. Like so many joys in life, I learned to celebrate winter and summer solstice from friends made on the KP.

It’s nearly my anniversary. I started plunging and swimming year-round in Puget Sound with a group of women three years ago in 2021. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life, and I would never have imagined it for myself.

It’s routine now, but it wasn’t always. Even in the dark mornings of winter, I wake up in pitch blackness and don my essentials: swimsuit, booties, neoprene gloves. I only recently gave up wearing a wool hat. I put on my robe, grab a towel and a thermos of hot coffee, and I’m out the door, no matter the weather.

I can’t explain why I do this. It’s not like anyone truly enjoys being cold. I hate it. But once I started enduring the cold with intention, I couldn’t stop. I was so impressed with my tough-minded management that I had to do it again and again to prove, if only to myself, that I could take the discomfort long enough to find the joy in it. And yes, believe it or not, there is joy on the other side of pain, and it’s called resilience.

If we made it through October, why not November? We swam surrounded by snow in December and during hailstorms in spring, so why not try swimming with air temps of 17 degrees? We don’t have to stay in long, just dip in for a minute or two. Yes, it’s extreme and certainly not for everyone, but sharing the experience of a pod of harbor seals popping up just a few feet away is priceless.

What impresses me most is that we’ve stuck with it through all sorts of life events, in sickness and in health, good times and bad. People may travel for a time, they come and go for many reasons, but still manage to return to the magical comfort of being in the water with women who have become friends. Enduring the cold water brings a certain sense of balance to everyday life.

Over the years, countless people have talked about how to restore some balance to our polarized world.

Not long ago, I sat at a table with a dozen people, most of whom I had never met before. The inspiration for the gathering and the question of the day was how to get people with differing political views talking again about civic stuff that matters. Is there any hope for a restoration of civil dialogue in our respective communities?

I was skeptical. I’ve attended things like this in the past organized by thoughtful people with diplomatic experience. The intentions were always the same, to bring people together to engage in a real and substantive exchange of ideas. Instead, we quickly became mired in ideological thinking. COVID didn’t help matters, and the gatherings quickly fizzled out.

But this group felt different. From across all backgrounds, there was agreement that the stakes of apathy have grown exponentially. Over time, the result of polarization is that people who don’t already agree stop talking entirely; nothing good can come from that.

What was different is that people were very candid and didn’t mince words about how they felt. But every bit as important is that we listened.

The first step is suspending judgment long enough to be present in the moment and able to listen, without a need to attack or defend, engage in immediate argument, or draw premature conclusions.

I heard a young person voice thoughtful views different from my own that both surprised and intrigued me. I heard people share their personal fears and motivations to create a space for open dialogue, not a repetition of talking points on subjects remote from their own lives — not the hardline black-and-white either/or of pundits or parties.

I walked away feeling hopeful. And it wasn’t because I was sitting in a room full of like-minded people. They were people who wanted the same things, only had different methods of getting there.

When people share a common goal and are willing to work together for the good of the order, great things happen. All that’s required is a willingness to dedicate to a mission and a commitment to show up to help regularly.

June 9, the grand opening of the restored Vaughn Library Hall, was a prime example of a dream and the work it took to make it happen.

Key Peninsula Historical Society volunteer Frank Shirley was wandering around that day, running his finger across the wood frame of a window, looking almost lost.

“What am I going to do now to give my life purpose?” he asked.

“Well Frank, you live on the Key Peninsula, and we do stuff. There will be another project,” I said.

There’s a relationship between being proud of where you’re from but also a responsibility to nurture the kind of open community that feels accepting and supportive of others too.

There’s room for all of us. No matter where we come from, we can make a good home here if we try.