Long group meetings are a lifestyle with me

By From page A10 | June 22, 2014

* Editor’s note: Marion is taking the week off. This is a slightly revised column from 2008. She reports that since then, groups No. 2 and 4 have ended, but she joined two new groups: the Board of Yolo Hospice and a book group that reads whole books.

At a 2008 Stanford commencement, Oprah Winfrey proclaimed that students should follow their dreams.

“If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. That’s the lesson.”

“If you really want to fly, just harness your power to your passion. Honor your calling. Everybody has one. Trust your heart and success will come to you.”

My response?

Easier said than done.

Some people have passion, but the proposed career is just too hard. Think of all those future doctors who get defeated and cast aside after organic chemistry.

Some people have passion but not talent. I’m thinking of all those screechy singers on American Idol, the super-exuberant ones who never get past the first audition.

Some people have passion, but it doesn’t translate into a job.

I put myself in the last category. My passion is to interact with people in small groups. I could have made money at this if I’d been born in the era of business “focus groups,” but I come instead from the free “consciousness-raising” tradition of the 1970s.

The groups I belong to don’t do things. We talk. I believe we change each other in good and important ways, but no one makes any money doing this.

When I need support, I go to my groups, where a mistake or a loss is not forgotten, nor painted over, but heals slowly in the telling and retelling.

The mysteries of life? We’re always jabbering about them.

Not all my groups perform their magic in the same way, so the list that follows is not in order of success or anything else. What these groups have in common is people who share a commitment to conversation, wherever it may lead.

1. Women’s group. The most remarkable thing about this group is that it meets every week for an entire evening and has been doing so for more than 30 years. I’ve belonged almost the whole time, and all of our current seven members have belonged for at least 20 years. Recently, I noticed that despite aging, we enjoy unusual physical health. A coincidence?

2. Identity seekers. This weekly group grew out of a series of columns I wrote in 2000 about getting to know the Jewish half of my identity. At first, our four members studied Judaism. Eventually we moved on to other topics and, although our religious paths diverged, our friendship flowered.

3. Hospice volunteers. This is the most professional of my groups, organized by Yolo Hospice. Our goal is to be the best volunteers we can be, compassionate and useful at the same time. I feel safe in these meetings, even with new members, and I surprise myself by talking more than usual.

4. Serendipity. As the name suggests, this group formed by accident, near my second home in Coloma. We do what I used to consider weird stuff: chanting, meditation, drumming. I don’t do any of these things on my own, but when I come together with these four women, it feels good.

5. Writer’s group. No surprise that I belong to one of these. We’ve learned to be both kind and direct. (In what part of life is this skill not valuable?) Plus, I get to read good stuff.

6. “The Sun.” Several couples gather once a month in Lotus or Placerville to discuss the contents of a unique monthly magazine called The Sun. I view this as a book group for someone with a short attention span (me), but I’m becoming a better reader.

7. Kayaking group. A good day on the river is a day when I link up with my favorite boaters. We talk more than you would imagine, mostly in calm stretches. We also rescue each other, which — come to think of it — is what the other groups do, too, but less obviously.

With three groups that meet weekly and three that meet monthly, I spend a lot of time on my passion, and I know what makes a good group.

You need structure, not much, but enough so that everyone will be heard. You need outside activities, not much, but enough so that life events (babies, birthdays) can be honored. You need confidentiality, so members feel safe. You need quirkiness and humor, because laughter is a large part of what binds us together.

You need, at least occasionally, to talk intimately. (I’ve left groups that never got to that point.)

You need food.

When people tell me they hate meetings, I laugh, but I don’t always explain myself. Now you know: I like meetings. I seek them. I almost can’t describe the role of these groups in my life without getting emotional. Belonging to a small group is participating in the universe for me, touching it, getting close, learning what I need to learn.

Oprah would agree: this is passion, this is success.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected]

Marion Franck

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