What’s It Mean to Mean?





“What does it mean to mean?” That was the question presented to me by Mary-Dee, the 90 year old spitfire educator woman with whom I had the pleasure of staying with and getting to know. For me, I am thinking that something or someone means something when it becomes personal. It was such an appropriate question to be posed given what I am currently working on.


Part of what I’m doing is finishing up my dissertation. To that end, I am spending time reviewing transcribed interviews and journals of students college students who participated in a service program in Honduras. A reoccurring theme that keeps emerging is the impact of “connecting” with community members in Honduras. It appears that the moment when become “friends” and their interests, joys, and struggles become personal…that’s when a connection has meaning and people want to engage and help each other. Another important element in all that is that the relationships must feel reciprocal in that it is a give and take on both sides. Completing this research now is just so ironic as I make meaning on my current experience by connecting with people and forming friendships.


Leaving Point Arena was not easy. In just a few days, I’d become rather attached. I consoled myself with the belief that what just occurred was simply the beginning of some friendships and collaborations!


The ride along the coast on Highway 1 was stunning. The Gualala regional park I turned into just South of the seaside commercial district of Gualala was a bit of a godsend. I found the first 4G internet hotspot connection on my trip at a picnic table set a top a bluff over looking a junction where the Gualala river meets the ocean –breathtaking! I met a nice couple on vacation visiting their daughter, and the husband gave the contact info of his sister who has done “collaborative art”…he used the term. I will contact her since that is one of the ways that I was thinking students on bicycle could connect with community members.


Mary-Dee lives with her sweet shy little Tabetian terrier, Arial, in the beautiful Sea Ranch community. I had to walk Steel, and our ridiculously heavy load, up a stretch of butt-kicking hills to get to her. Dang it! But Mary-Dee’s home sits tucked into redwood trees high up on a ridge, so once I finally got to it, I could hardly complain. She carries a picture with her to show you how she once had an ocean view, but that the trees have now obstructed much of it.


Mary-Dee is about my height (5’2″), thin, and has short grey hair that frames her friendly face, and bright smile. She walks with a slight limp due to a knee replacement she had done towards the end of last year. She’s a bit crouched over and will speak out loud to tell herself to stand up straight! I feel super comfortable around her. So totally nice, generous and interesting! She gets totally jazzed when she hears a classical song playing that she likesI She will pause mid-sentence, and excitedly suggest that we stop and listen to whatever is enthralling her at that moment. She played both violin and viola? for many years. I love that she is still working with her therapist to try to figure herself out at 90.


Mary-Dee is still very active with a non-profit organization that she formed years ago called Matrix of Change. She enthusiastically explained and shared a recent news clipping about her current Mindful Gardening project at the local K-8 school. She was involved with introducing a mindfulness curriculum to the school, wherein children start in kindergarden to meditate. What?? Yep! It’s a rather progressive efforts that is supposedly taking off around the country. Mary via her organization, and as a leader in countless other groups and organizations has actively engage in facilitating positive programming her entire life. She holds a Ph.D. from Berkley which she got in the midst of raising her three daughters. She speaks fondly of her three girls (and her grandchildren, and great grandchildren) all of whom are artistic in one way or another. She is trying diligently to get her affairs in order so that her kids will not be left with a mess. This includes getting rid of the most impressive collection of power saws that I’ve ever seen. She commented that “it takes a lot of saws to build a house.” Mary-Dee does not like to do house work. “Women’s work!” she exclaims with a smile and twinkle in her eye.


We shared a number of wonderful dinners together, and she introduced me to putting artichokes (packed in olive oil and spices) onto a salad. Yum! I’m totally hooked. We seemed to connect in some unexpected and interesting ways particularly related to our parents. Mary and her husband were part of the Conscientious Objector movement in the 1940s, wherein the aim was to avoid military service. It appears that she has spent a life time on the progressive side of things as evidenced by her and her husband setting up an intentional community with four other couples in the 1940s, etc. I thought those sorts of movements did not happen until the 60s. Like so many things in life, I keep finding that ideas and movements just keep re-cycling.


She turned me on to a plethora of interesting sounding books (including one by her favorite guru, Daniel Siegel). I tell her I’m writing a chapter in my service learning book about leadership, and immediately she pulled out a book that I had never heard of called “Women’s Ways of Leading”, co-authored by a personal friend of her who also lives in Sea Ranch (I’m hoping to meet her next week at a literary critic class that she is currently taking). Despite what may look like clutter, Mary-Dee knows exactly where to find whatever book she references, and does so in an instance. She purposely buys books from the local book store, so as to help them stay in business. No library exists in Sea Ranch, and she fervently does not want to support Amazon. Love it!


My sleep was never as sound as it was at Mary-Dees, and waking up felt like heaven. The little studio where I stayed had floor to ceiling windows with views to the redwoods. Mary-Dee never suggested that I leave, but I felt that it was time. I stayed a couple of days longer than I was originally thinking due to some unexpected rain. I really could have stayed with her indefinitely -that’s how welcome she made me feel. I about melted when she made reference to me as feeling like one of her daughters…


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