A small tight community
Park Record columnist
Oh, the stories …
There is something surreal about being here — close to where I grew up — in “The City” that my father’s father’s family lived in, where my great grandfather was an Irish beat cop on the Barbary Coast.
I love San Francisco and we all leave parts of our hearts here. I am staying in the hotel where my mother spent the first — of her many — wedding nights. I have been here for a conference where the theme is “It’s About Time.” And like most of my friends in the TED community, we all felt we had stolen time to make it here.
People always want to ask, when I return from a TED gathering, “What was your favorite talk” kind of koan. There is no favorite, of course. Sometimes — out of context — my favorite at the time doesn’t have the same emotional impact on the screen as it did in person. TED knows how to layer the conversation and emotion until you start to feel a rhythm to thoughts and new connections. Then synapses and sparks and vibrations all collide in a way that can leave you exhausted and exhilarated.
It takes me months, honestly, to process, and read reminders from my crazy TEDite friends who send little notes as realizations come to them about what we experienced together. Notes about that dinner we had, and questions about their kids and careers, and did you finish that speaker’s book? It is a small tight community that represents all communities and countries and cultures and it is a place that isn’t afraid to talk about all the hard stuff because we’re all dealing with hard stuff and we’re all looking to understand it. Which connects us and removes isolation and stigmas and fear.
I write all over my notebook in scribbles that make sense only to me — triggers from a talk that will remind me of something I need to look into deeper, someone to seek out for a conversation, something to hold onto until it surfaces in the public conversation.
The talk from Elizabeth Lesser, who gave her estranged sister her bone marrow and thus gave her another year of life, had us in tears. Ashley Judd’s kick-ass talk about cyber bullying was angry and sad and powerful and empowering. The multiple folks who spoke as pairs on stage had us laughing and cheering … then stunned, when the final pair, a beautiful woman from Iceland and a handsome man from Australia, told their story about how, as an exchange student in Iceland, the young man had raped the teenage girl on prom night. And the decades of anger, hurt and confusion, and finally forgiveness and reconciliation that came after years of letters exchanged and a week spent in South Africa being honest about all those issues. Their book, called “South of Forgiveness,” will be published soon.
Then, after the sessions, a woman who had left a successful career in one state to become a council person in another, asked if we could go for a drink and unfolded a tale of corruption in her small Pacific Northwest town that is so huge the FBI has been called in.
Another TED participant, a Harvard graduate and former rape victim, asked if we could have lunch where she unfolded her successful RISE project — a comprehensive Bill of Rights for victims of sexual assault, so all states could have the same basic rules on how to treat rape victims. It passed unanimously in both houses of Congress, but the federal law needs state support. And we talked about ways that might work to get support in Utah.
The Centers for Disease Control report that 25 million Americans are rape survivors — a population nearly equal to the state of Texas.
I danced badly with others who were dancing badly — all of us with great enthusiasm. I shared tissues and gum and, yes, High West whiskey. For years I have been bringing it with me as a kind ice breaker that works without ice.
Tonight, before I head back home, I will have dinner with a sweet soul who used to live in Park City and who helped my daughter with her wedding nearly 20 years ago and so many events with the Eccles Center when we first opened. She lives here now across the Bay.
All those concentric circles I am starting to feel more deeply now. There are people who we meet and they are with us for a time, and then we, and they, move on. You can think that is the end of the relationship. And it might be. But those that imprint on your soul, you pick right back up and walk right down those paths that still want/need to be shared.
Finding the time turns out to be a choice, of course. And we can make excuses and or we can make time by shifting what matters. And when international folks gather once (and sometimes twice) a year, then we have stories we can’t wait to share and suspended/expanded time that allows us to catch up, dig deep, love fiercely and question how we can live more authentic lives of purpose.
I will continue this dizzying pace until I jump on a plane and return to my home where I have spent more than half my life. In the same little house on the same little street in a little town in the mountains that allows me to springboard from it to keep gathering stories and relationships I hold dear.
I will find time to unpack all I gathered, starting this Sunday in the Park….
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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