An act of love – nonjudgmental, unconditional, supportive love – changes lives. And the amazing thing about love is that anyone can do it. Anyone can be it. You don’t need any special skills or resources to love. You simply need to show up, open and ready to grow with others. You have the ability already inside you to change lives. You are powerful, and you can make a difference.

Our Wisdom Council of Englewood community elders learned this lesson of their own power earlier this month, when we traveled together to Nauvoo, IL to study with Grandmother Susan of Grandmothers Circle the Earth. Before the trip, there was a sense of excitement, nervousness, and anticipation. Ms. Marie said, “I’ve never been able to tell anyone, I’m just going away.” We called the trip One Fresh Breath – for some, their first opportunity to leave the city and experience a fresh breath of air. The trip became not only an opportunity to learn, but also to be, to sleep a night without the sound of an ambulance, to momentarily step away from caretaking roles and fill up with nourishment from community.  

At the beginning of the retreat, Grandmother Susan asked everyone to think of the most important thing they did not want to take back home with them – a memory, a misunderstanding,  a fear, something that no longer served them in their life. They wrote it down on a little slip of paper and we locked it in a box and it stayed there, released from our hearts – as Grandmother Susan said, “healing unseen wounds and making way for new Visions to birth.”

Throughout our weekend together, we got to work learning medicine songs and stories and prayers. We thought through what our Wisdom Council is and could be, and envisioned a future I Grow Chicago Youth Council for 2019.

It was also a time intergenerational bonding. Peace, our Director of Community Engagement and the youngest of the group, supported the elders by driving, caring for the grandmothers, cleaning, and singing. Ms. Johnson shared, “We all are learning together every day. We’re calling ourselves Wisdom Council, but we don’t know more. We’ve just made more mistakes. We need each other.” This space of mutuality was a testament to the connection between grandmothers and young peace warriors in creating conscious, thriving communities.

Exchange continued among our grandmothers as well. During the trip, our elders shared with Grandmother Susan just as she shared with us. She recounted one particularly impactful exchange: “I experienced a beautiful and unexpected teaching moment. Ms. Johnson sat with me, and in just three or four minutes imparted words of sweet and profound counsel that I know will be with me for the remainder of my days. She spoke to me of aging. She said ‘there will be things now that you can’t do because you are getting older, but that’s alright because you’ve done them for such a long time already.’ She spoke to me of family, and how to look for the beautiful sweetness that passes from generation to generation without focusing on the bitter. She smiled at me and I felt my white haired Grandmother Bertha Ross smiling at me through the veil. In a few weeks I will be 70. I am excited to claim the Winter Season of my Life. In just those few minutes I was given my Initiation by a beloved Elder. That’s really all it takes.”

On the last day of our voyage, we closed the Circle and went down to the Mississippi River. Grandmother Susan removed the slips of paper from the lock box, the pieces we wished to leave behind. She tore the papers into tiny strips, rolling them up and putting them holes of a Water Lily seed pod. After thanking those no longer needed thoughts and feelings for the lessons they had brought into our lives, we sang to them, said our last good-byes, and Peace let them go into the Mississippi River.

When we returned to Chicago with our elders, refreshed, with space open for new beginnings, we immediately got to work supporting our community and bringing the lessons home with us. Our elders are leading the way to a world where love lives in public.