It’s not very often that I have had the opportunity to know someone who embraces the concept of honouring, cherishing and celebrating people and life with passion, enthusiasm and commitment. Over the period of five years, I worked with a Montessori colleague in Japan who was also the Principal of our department. Our five classroom department was part of a larger international school in Japan. During that time I had many opportunities to hear Trish’s ideas about the world of Montessori schools, children, child development, and topics such as peace education. It has been a few years now since we worked together and most of the content from our conversations has blended together in my memories. I find it hard to remember specific topics but rather remember the overall tone and approach – the spirit of our conversations. I also remember functional results of her influence. As an example, Trish told my colleagues and me that we needed to remove negative words and sentiments from our conversations and communications with parents and the children. We had to avoid using the word “not”. See? I just did it. This was particularly important when we were writing out our report cards.
After I returned to Canada, and six months before I got married, I opened my inbox and found an E-mail from my former colleague. It had the subject “From Heaven”. In the split second that it took me to open the E-mail, I was in a suspended state of confusion. From heaven? What does she mean? As I read the E-mail I started to realize that she wasn’t the author. Her daughters were writing to tell me that she had passed away suddenly from an unexpected brain hemorrhage. I was shocked. Five years later I still think about her often and miss her presence in my life, her wise ideas and her passion for life.
What was most unique about Trish’s life outlook, in my opinion, was her enthusiasm to honour, cherish and celebrate her relationships with other people. I recall seeing photos of her with her daughters showing how they would have a summer celebration outdoors. They dressed in white clothing that was reminiscent of another time and place. They celebrated the natural world and their relationships as mothers and daughter. At least this how I recall hearing about the story. Perhaps I don’t have the details quite right anymore, but I do recall that it was a special and meaningful time that they spent together on a regular basis, even though they all lived in far flung corners of the globe.
In one conversation I recall her describing how she ended a long term relationship with her romantic partner. They devised a personal ceremony in which they honoured and celebrated their relationship symbolically through the rituals they shared together that evening. What a meaningful and peaceful way to re-frame what could be a difficult and traumatic moment.
After I ended a relationship suddenly, Trish advised me to find three things to say about my former love interest – three reasons to express gratitude for our time together. I was in a lot of physical discomfort following a car accident he and I had been in, and was still reeling from the disintegration of our relationship. She calming guided me through this process of letting go and encouraged me to embrace a process about which I was not very keen. In a prior relationship that I’d also had in Japan, I was left with a feeling of a lack of conviction about the decisions and actions that I took at the time. At the time I sought out and followed the advice of a close friend about my options rather than my own heart. For many years the unfinished threads of this experience floated around in the background. Recently, while following Trish’s advice, I tried to recognize the gratitude I had for that time in my life and wrote about it in the piece “Gratitude: Sometimes it Takes Awhile.”
In the spring before my departure from Japan and return to Canada, Trish asked her friends and colleagues to create a quilt block that would become part of her 50th birthday celebration. I remember putting the brakes on when she asked me. At that time I didn’t feel I was well equipped to create a fabric piece. I knew that she and her friends had created elaborate, beautiful quilts in the past and couldn’t imagine how I could create anything worthy enough for her quilt. I recall a day when she stopped me in the hallways and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I would be creating this quilt block and she would be waiting to receive it. That summer, as I relaxed by the beaches and in the gardens of Barbados, I created a quilt piece focussed on the spiritual conversation surrounding the theme “The Lord is my Shepperd”. The specific quote that I added to my piece was “He gives me strength and he guides me to the right path.” (Psalm 23)
When I think about this approach to honouring and celebrating out relationships and times together, I realize that I am not always so committed to implementing this ideal in my life. Recently I have started to give more thought to the idea of gratitude and how our past informs our present. As I strive to appreciate my time with family and friends and support others, I’m seeing the benefit of revisiting past events and times that took place in the recent and more distant past. Recalling Trish Copeland‘s inspirational ideas seems to be the perfect place to start.
I worked with Trish at a time when it was still very much in vogue to receive catalogues from companies when you wanted to order Montessori supplies and books, and educational material for your classroom. Trish introduced me to Under the ChinaBerry Tree – a company that celebrates books and other products that feature “unconditional love, sparking the imagination, cultivating tolerance and appreciation, celebrating nature, inducing giggles, or bringing a quiet, reverent close to the day. Chinaberry offers items to support families in raising their children with love, honesty and joy to be reverent, loving caretakers of each other and the earth.” The catalogue also included thoughtful articles about these topics. Right now Trish is watching me from heaven as I munch on dark chocolate, crouch with knees bent on my chair and type these words. Listening to the Chinaberry mission statement, I know is smiling. I hope you’re smiling too!
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Daily Dish Archives: Pamela Chan/Publisher, BCfamily.ca