About “Hoeing ‘In the Garden'” – The memoir, In the Garden, portrays the author’s mother, Ellen, an ordinary woman, who became extraordinary by surrendering her will and ego to the will of God. At every crossroads of her life, she chose faith over doubt, acceptance over resignation, hope instead of despair. “Not my will, but Thy will be done,” was her mantra. After marrying the love of her life, Henry, Ellen lived her entire life in the house, on the hill, on a farm in west Michigan (the site of present day Country Dairy), rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her. There she found her calling as a helpmeet and homemaker. She transformed the house on the hill into a place of beauty and sanctuary for their family.
To view the memoir visit http://www.principia.com or http://www.janethasselbring.com. In Hoeing “In the Garden,” the author revisits her mother’s story, cultivating and digging up tidbits of truth to provide inspiration and encouragement for the challenges of her life.
In this series, “Her Children Arise and call her Blessed – Lessons from Proverbs,” the author describes how her mother has become her archetype, guiding her through the rough and tumble of life’s journey, helping her to fulfill her souls’ deepest yearnings and desires, becoming the person she wants to be, and how she wants to be remembered. She recalls challenging, interesting experiences and times when she called upon the wisdom of her mother and the traits that transformed this ordinary woman’s life and made it extraordinary.
Lesson 1 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood
It was week five of my writing class. As the class members assembled, I looked over my notes one last time before welcoming them to another session of Writing the Short Story. We had covered a lot in the course and the following week, Week Six, was scheduled to be A Celebration of Writing, the culmination of the course, where students would share a finished piece they had written, edited and polished. I had a lot of material to cover before then. I hadn’t wanted to teach the class, but agreed, under pressure, to give it a try. I was retired after all and supposed to be enjoying my time, wintering, in Florida. In truth, I would rather have been outside on the tennis court.
It was time to start, but before I had a chance to welcome everyone, Barbara piped up. Barbara was from New York and before retirement, had written musicals, some of which had been successful off – Broadway productions.
“I have something to say,” she announced. Quiet settled over the room. “I’m not happy with the way you are teaching the class.” Instinctively I stiffened, as she proceeded to blast me for talking too much; for teaching at the expense of class participation. It wasn’t the way she learned and certainly not the way she would teach, were she the instructor. As the complaints continued, I glanced around the table, feeling responsible for the class members. I was the instructor after all. These were my students. They appeared startled at her visceral outage, their faces a bit gloomy and strained. I sensed some were ready to jump in and defend me.
Feeling angry and betrayed, I was about to respond in kind, telling her she was out of line, attacking me in front of the class. Her feelings should have been relayed to me in private. Then too, my hackles were up over her description of the class structure. Even though I knew I had been dominating class time with my agenda, I strongly disliked classes where instructors abdicated their professional responsibility to teach, instead allowing class participation to be the order of the day.
In the meantime, Barbara still had the floor, her assertions turning into a diatribe. I needed to do something to regain control. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a calm settled over me. From somewhere came a question: “What would my mother do?” And knowing the answer to the question, I sat back, smiled at Barbara and the others.
“Thanks for your input, Barbara,” I said. “I’m sure I have been talking a lot during this class, trying to cover everything I promised in the course outline. But, let’s change things up today and go with your idea to have more class participation.” With that I invited each of the students to share something they had written, inviting feedback and discussion from the others. “Would you like to begin Barbara?” My invitation was genuine, with not a trace of defensiveness or rancor.
Everyone relaxed. We spent the rest of the time listening and discussing each other’s writings. Ever the teacher, I attempted, as best I could, to apply the principles and elements of writing – what I was supposed to be teaching(!), to their works and some of the problems discussed.
Toward the end of the class, a member spoke up. “I know you changed today’s agenda to accommodate the wishes of Barbara,” she said, “but I think many of us would like to hear the lesson you had planned for today. Could we postpone the Celebration of Writing a week and have you do today’s lesson next week?” Barbara sat mute. Everyone concurred and that’s what we did.
Barbara didn’t return to the class. Later, alone with her, I suggested she might like to join another group, devoted solely to sharing and critiquing. As gently as I could, I noted that there might have been a better way for her to handle her comments.
The Celebration of Writing was a huge success for the students and along with their evaluations of the class, both written and shared personally with me, many of them noted how much they appreciated how I handled a challenging situation and turned it into a positive for everyone, without diminishing Barbara.
“First attempt to understand, then to be understood,” was practiced by my mother, Ellen, far before Stephen Covey described it as Habit #5 in his Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. That day in class, faced with Barbara’s barrage of complaints, I called on that wisdom.
Interestingly enough, one of my class lecture/discussions, actually the one I postponed because of Barbara, had to do with calling upon archetypes to guide and navigate us in the difficult situations/relationships of life. Having written In the Garden, a memoir, of my mother, Ellen, I had come to respect and admire her – her peaceful and victorious death led me to explore the manner in which she lived – and died; however, not until I devised the lessons for the writing course, specifically the lesson on archetypes, in which I state that everyone has at least one archetype, that may lie dormant, until its triggered by some situation in the environment or the conscious/unconscious mental life of the person, did I realize that my archetype is my mother. Once aroused, the archetype will manifest powers and attributes through you, helping you to become the person you want to be. Wow! What a coincidence!
I think my mother has been my guiding light and mentor for a long while, but it took Barbara to make me aware of it. My mother’s example, that day, enabled me to take a step back from my defenses, my pride, my “right” ideas – my EGO, and listen, really listen to her – not through my perceptions, my story, but really listen to her – her needs, her story. With my mother’s help, I was able to place Barbara’s concerns before my own, genuinely trying to understand her instead of needing to be understood myself.
My mother was a strong, independent woman with high ideals, morals, and principles. Eking out a living on a small farm with Henry, the love of her life, in the 1930’s(she was a city girl, after all), couldn’t have been easy; yet through it all, she invested herself and her beliefs in an Emotional Bank Account that grew dividends over the years.
For such a strong, independent woman to show me the way to non confrontation, acceptance, understanding, and exploring winning solutions by listening and caring to and for others, is a wonderful thing to contemplate. My mother would want me to explain that all the miracles and victories of her life were made possible through her faith in God and the work of the spirit in her life.
My mother, my archetype, helps me to take the high road in the situations and relationships of my life. With her guidance, I’m learning not to be confrontational, not to react defensively, to listen to people and care about their feelings, and to create WIN/WIN situations out of problems and challenges.
I feel good about the way things worked out that day with Barbara. Seeking to understand, rather than to be understood, helped me be who I want to be and how I want to be remembered.
“A Garland and a Chain”
“Listen, my son to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.”
(Proverbs 1: 8,9)