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October light

October light

It’s said that All Hallows’ / Samhain is a “thin time,” when the separation between the corporeal and spirit worlds is very thin. Celebrated and commemorated through All Saints and Dia de los Muertos rituals, the spirits of those we love but who are no longer living with us are central during this period.

It was very much a liminal few days for me, with thoughts and feelings of loved ones very much present. Halloween, always an excuse for a party in San Francisco, was topped with a parade for the San Francisco Giants World Series victory. It all meant that my city was in a celebratory mood. On November 1st, a neighbor asked me “how was your Halloween?” “Good.” I said, with a smile. His young son was eating candy for breakfast. Actually, I stood on a thin edge.

My emotions were so near the surface that it made being in public a challenge. I cried easily and often, for grief and happiness: grief for my loss and failures, and happiness for the good memories. I included my dad and my dog among those dead to be included in prayers at church. I went from thinking of loved ones to seeing the joy of a family with their 6-day-old child and twin toddlers, and cried for both. I hope people at church just figured I had a cold, based on how often my handkerchief was out.

I felt the blessing of sunshine and the fall breeze on my skin, and missed my dog Phoebe. Phoebe and I would have been together outdoors on a hike or in the garden on such a day. She would have set a quick pace up and down hills a few years ago, but went far more slowly the past few years. Out for a walk at a brisk pace, traveling past our old haunts, I miss her. She’s been gone just 4 months now. At least outdoors, it was sunny enough to wear my Oakley sunglasses, which hid my misty eyes from people on the street.

And then there’s the headache that tends to follow after all that emotion. To give myself a break, I immerse myself in a really good book. Here’s a quote from one by Diana Gabaldon, whose writing made me think of this as a “thin time.”

“This is the thin time, when the beloved dead draw near. The world turns inward, and the chilling air grows thick with dreams and mystery.”
Diana Gabaldon, An Echo in the Bone

Taken by her only dog-walker/alternate caretaker, Jenny (aka Doggrrl)

Phoebe on Bernal Hill

For the first time in many years, I won’t be taking Phoebe to church this weekend. The celebration of St Francis with the Blessing of the Animals is something I enjoyed before I had a dog. I attended the celebration at Grace Cathedral with friends (one of whom had a dog) when Jane Goodall preached the sermon and my friend’s dog Riley got his special prayer. I know I could attend this year, too, with or without Phoebe’s ashes, but it’s too sad to contemplate, and I don’t want to sob in public, which is what would likely happen.

Phoebe was a blessing to me in many ways for nearly 15 years. The regular prayers she & I received during the Blessing of the Animals acknowledged that bond. I’m recalling those blessings, and that bond today, with love.

June 2014

I am saddened by the news that Geoff Penney has died. I worked at Schwab with Geoff from 1997 until his retirement in 2004. I thoroughly enjoyed working both with and for him, and valued him so much for what I learned from him. I watched him develop as a leader, and one who was willing to share with me from his experience. Some lessons were on the order of what not to do, but many were things he coached me on in our one-on-one interactions.

Geoff was direct – sometimes abrupt – but I always knew he had good intentions, and there was never a question of where he stood on a topic. He challenged me from the start, even calling me on vacation to make sure we were aligned on something my team had to deliver for his project. Whether as a peer or my boss, he made his expectations clear, but gave me the support I wanted and room to deliver.

He clearly loved technology, and it was a joy to see him wade in to technical detail with staff at all levels, even when he was CIO. I’d see their faces light up, knowing that this very senior person valued their work.

We had our share of laughs, and experienced occasional cultural and language differences – like when he had to spend quite a bit of time describing the significance and context of the “broad, sunlit uplands” to us – necessary, in his view, for us to create our team vision.

Geoff gave me an enormously challenging assignment with the instructions to “do whatever I needed to do to make this happen, but don’t slow down”. I had the feeling he was Henry V and I was one of the soldiers headed to battle on St. Swithin’s Day during that conversation. He retired during that assignment and it was my last role at Schwab. I missed him a great deal, but learned in the years since to enjoy his annual newsletter about things he was learning and doing, and trips he and his family were taking. His version of retirement seemed to me the right way to go about it. I hope to continue learning from him.

My condolences to the whole Penney family.