Trusting what we know

I’ve become accustomed to my e-mail inbox filling up whenever I turn my back–like a boat with a leak that will sink if you don’t bail it out frequently–but usually I can keep pace with the flow. However one afternoon last week, after spending a good hour working on e-mails (responding, deleting, archiving), I noticed, with a feeling of helplessness, that my inbox had become four screens instead of the three I had begun working on. It felt like when a wave brakes over the bow of your leaky rowboat, undoing an hour of bailing, and you think, “Time to abandon ship.”

Most of my e-mail comes from one of the two non-profits on whose boards I sit: the Parkinson’s Coalition, where I am president. With the other, Pathways Academy, a school for kids with learning differences where I’ve been on the board for a decade, these days I’m mostly a witness to other people’s impressive dedication.

That evening, the day I took a break from my e-mail, I received a phone call from a man who has recently taken on the task of directing development and funding for Pathways. Over the past twenty years, in other contexts, I have seen his capacity to affect change, but unfortunately, in the case of this private school, he is stuck with an operating deficit so intimidating, and a time frame so unforgiving, that it appears doubtful that he can turn things around in time. Private schools are ineligible for government funding, and the option of raising tuition runs in the face of the reality that many of the families who most depend on this school are themselves in financial crisis.

The new development director shared with me his evaluation of the situation. Unless the board commits to a level of philanthropic support sufficient to justify starting another school year—and to commit quickly in order to reassure parents and teachers who are already checking out other options–there will be a mass exodus before the week is out.

My first thought was: since the school needs significant funding and I can’t contribute in that way, there is nothing I can personally do except watch as the situation unfolds. The fact staring us all in the face is that we started this attempt at a rescue very late in the day. We might be able to raise half of the $150,000 needed for next year–through the contributions of several parents who are desperate to keep alive the only school that has ever allowed their child to come home smiling, glad to have friends, glad to go back each morning to be with those friends, in an environment that recognizes and values their different capacities. But we seem to have started too late to be able to confidently reassure families and faculty that we’re good to go for another school year.

I think my discouragement earlier that day, with my burgeoning emails, had left me feeling that I need to back off from all these demands that I have invited into my “retirement” years.

Then I had a thought that felt like an alternative to this ‘too little too late’ perspective. There is a parent on the board who has worked incredibly hard in the past year–through his sizeable financial contributions, his paying personally for radio and print media promotions and the redesign of the school website, and by single-handedly distributing school flyers to all the pediatricians in town (the doctors who work with families, some of whom may be looking for a different school for their different kids). But all his efforts have stalled, most recently because we couldn’t find the password to renew our school’s domain name and therefore can’t install the new website using the URL printed on all our literature. So families desperate for what this school provides still can’t find us (and with low attendance, we are bound to remain in an untenable financial position).

Meanwhile the new development director, whose capacity to raise funds, network with the community, and make things happen I have witnessed over the years, has already accomplished something very important. In just the few days he has been working at the school, a local internet provider (SWCP) has agreed to host our website for $20 a year and to insure that it will be accessible to all the many search engines.

Then it occurred to me that no one else is in exactly my position, of knowing something of the histories of both these two men: the parent who has done his best to put the school on a sound footing, and the development director who knows how to accomplish what the school has always needed. Could they complement each other’s efforts enough to justify starting another school year? And could such a decision be announced within a few days, in time to reassure teachers and parents before their exodus becomes irreversible?

I don’t know what will happen next. I am neither a development guru nor a parent with the capacity to fund their child’s school. The fate of the school is not in my hands. In fact, this is just a story I am telling myself. And it’s worth remembering that we always have a personal motivation for holding onto our stories:

“. . .because without them parts of our lives would simply disappear. If we cannot hold onto them, perhaps because others do not see them the way we do, they become irrelevant.” Revelations of Mind, Page 110.

But I think sometimes, when we see ourselves as empowered (even just to trust the power of knowledge), opportunities can arise where we previously saw obstacles, and a path of action can appear where we previously felt helpless. We don’t have to be central protagonists in order to share with others the knowledge we ourselves trust. As long as we are acting on behalf of a larger interest than our own, we may be just the synapse that is needed to conduct an understanding that can help generate a vision of success.

So I have been busy trying to acquaint these two “protagonists” with one another’s interests, dedication, and skills. Perhaps together they will have what it takes to build a bridge to the future.

“Any time obstacles come up, we can be warriors, without fear. When we practice with this understanding, obstacles can become our partners, our friends, our energy, our wisdom, and our path, for we will have a different way to deal with them.” Revelations of Mind, Page 94.

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