Who Happened to You in 2021?

The End of the Year Often Calls for Lists
Lists of “The Best of”, things we’ve accomplished over the year, aspirations for the one that’s coming, etc.   We’ve been thinking more about listing people–people who have moved us, people who inspired us, people that we lost, and really anyone that impacted us, good or bad.

Our List Begins with Some of the Personalities We Wrote about in 2021
For example, Carolyn, the soldier who used art to cope with being deployed in Afghanistan (click here for that story), and Eric who survived the genocide in Rwanda (here), and Lizzy who celebrated her 57th birthday pinned for hours under an ATV (here).  It also includes Kyle, the young man who lost his dog Valkis just before he was hospitalized for his body rejecting a heart transplant and who sadly died but not before Valkis had been found (here).

We Have Updates
We have updates, by the way, on some of these folks.To start, Rebecca recently contacted Kyle’s parents Carolyn and George, delivering a little drawing she’d made of Kyle as an angel flying over them, Valkis, and Valkis’ doggie siblings (the drawing at the top of this post).

The Distance Rebecca’s Father and Brother As Birds

Animals as the Spirits of Our Loved Ones
Then, after Rebecca told them that her brother T and her father Ted, both of whom died of cancer, regularly visited her family as eagles and hawks, Carolyn shared that Kyle often appeared to them in the form of an owl.  We have frequently observed this phenomenon, people believing that their loved ones live on in the spirit of certain animals. Even if it is only in our imagination, it seems to help us feel connected to the other side.

What Comforted Kyle’s Parents
Carolyn and George said that one of the things they had found most comforting since Kyle’s death was the many people who had reached out to tell them how much they had enjoyed his playfulness and the way his illness had made him appreciate life.  A reminder to us that even though we sometimes don’t want to disturb people when they are grieving, they often relish having people share stories about their loved one.  Rebecca also found that her visit with Kyle’s parent transformed a brief and essentially singular exchange with Kyle and his family (shared here in the original newsletter) to an ongoing story that has been revisited and can continue to unfold—an actual living relationship!

Gioia, Dr. C, and Rebecca

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi
On different note, we mention with heavy hearts another person who impacted us strongly this year: sadly the passing of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—known to most for developing the theory of Flow but for us being one of the fathers of Positive Psychology. Gioia and Rebecca had the honor of being his dinner hosts when he served as the keynote for one of the American Art Therapy Conferences.

Jung On Flying Saucers

We were blessed to hear him describe firsthand his encounter, when he was just 17, with Jung right after the second world war.  Jung had been lecturing on flying saucers, suggesting that they appeared in circular forms—mandalas—more as a projection of a universal need for grounding and connection after the devastation of the war than the actual sightings of UFOs.  Rebecca later had the chance to interview Dr. Csikszentmihalyi and will soon be sharing in more detail this priceless exchange, which included getting him to draw a mandala and explore its meaning.

Carolyn-Sunset in Afghanistan

Our Soldier Friend Carolyn 
We also have an update on our soldier friend Carolyn–she is being deployed again.  We realize that soldiers everyday are making this kind of sacrifice but we are nevertheless in awe of her commitment to service and hope that, as it had in her previous deployments, art continues to be both a way to cope with the stress of being on active duty and a way to help her connect with the people she meets on assignment.  We will be sending her protective thoughts of safety and wellbeing. 

Not Just Loved Ones But Strangers
There are many other people who we have put on our list—not just people with whom we had positive experiences but also people who were challenging to us.  We also thought about all of the strangers that crossed our paths some of whom impacted us as much as people we know and love.  For example, there was also the young artist with schizophrenia that we met on the streets in DC that invited us to be friends on Facebook and with whom we now regularly correspond.  Or the customer service representative who told Rebecca that she was being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative which gave Rebecca a useful if not particularly pleasant insight into how she was choosing to engage with others in the world.

What Got Them On Your Radar?
So as you close out the year, think of all of the people who impacted your life in 2021.  Capture as many people as you can—really try to remember who you interacted with and what made them get on your radar.  See if doing this exercise doesn’t bring up memories that would otherwise have faded into obscurity and if it doesn’t make you appreciate the breadth and diverse quality of the encounters you had.

Still from the Movie My Octopus Teacher

What About The Octopus?
And now, finally, we get to the octopus, who we “met” this year in the movie “My Octopus Teacher” (click here to see the trailer).  What struck us most about this lovely creature was what appeared to be its graceful transition from living to dying.  As you know, we at CWW are very invested in exploring how recognizing and truly grasping our inevitable death can improve the quality of the life we are living.

Gioia’s Gratitude Journal

You Got On Our List of People
Last but definitely not least,  we include you, dear readers, on our list–the people who form our community out there in the world.  So many of you reach out to tell us how the stories we share in our newsletters have affected you personally.  It has extended what began as a temporary experiment 10 years ago to a rich and enduring dialogue (click here for our first newsletter on Gratitude from November 0f 2012).  We look forward to continuing that exchange for many years to come.

Sending you all love and blessings for the past year and for the new year to come.

Warmly,  Rebecca and Gioia