COLUMN: Ed Olfert — March 6, 2014

Ed Olfert
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I spent a mealtime with a young friend, “Pat.” Young in this case means approaching 40, the age of our children.

Pat described a childhood coloured by anger, harsh disciplinary lessons, excessive work expectations, sibling favouritism, (where Pat wasn’t the favourite), and extreme control issues on the part of his parents. When I suggested to Pat that a significant challenge for my own growth through my childhood issues were found in the words, “you become an adult when you are able to forgive your parents,” Pat reacted passionately, responding, “Well, by that definition, I’m certainly only partly an adult!”

And when I offered that another useful position for me was the thought, “Everybody simply does the best that they can,” including parents, Pat honestly acknowledged that he wasn’t there yet.

Pat remains estranged from those biologically closest in his family. I suggested some tentative reaching out to see if healing could occur, relationships might be re-invented, and I sensed that his hope was tinged with doubt.

Pat also has struggles in workplaces. He described a boss who was suddenly nice to him, and Pat could only respond with suspicion. “What does he want from me?” When I suggested that he seemed not to have much experience with people being nice to him, tears welled immediately.

I know Pat to be a thoughtful, generous, caring human being. He is gifted in working with his hands. As I processed my experience of him and his life story, it struck me that Pat was virtually without people who loved him and supported him. As such, it’s a much harder task to confront historical, or any, issues, and get to the healthy side of them

Those who peruse this column regularly are aware that I involve myself in Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), which surrounds folks who have destructive behaviour in their past and offers a sounding board and encouragement, especially to high risk sexual offenders. In my experience of close to 20 years, the circle becomes a place of friendship and strong relationships, within which support and accountability goes in all directions, both to core members and to volunteers. This is where lives are changed, miracles happen.

As I consider what that circle has done for me, I am in awe. Group values are formed and offered, trust is nurtured, stories are heard and cared about, actions are shared and sometimes challenged, and growth happens.

Thinking further, I discover that my life is positively full of circles. They are almost innumerable.

A key one is the circle of family. Again, within a family, values are formed, tested, offered. Little ones learn, this is how we are a family, these are things we will hold fast, these things might be jettisoned. A recent picture embodies that well, the memory of three generations of Olferts gathered around an evening table at a snowmobile retreat at a northern lake, playing Racko.

Little ones included were learning lessons of teasing, storytelling, of what brings mirth, of how we show caring and respect. Of course within the family, there are many sub-circles, Holly’s siblings and families, mine, our birth children, grandchildren, in laws, etc.

The faith family offers another example where worth is affirmed. Here we have a written set of expectations called a Confession of Faith, but that has a pretty general feel. Within that, we learn to care for each other, to show that caring, to develop language around it, to grow the trust needed to challenge each other in ways that do not break that trust.

Again, there are many overlying circles here. As an example, I think of a smallish group that meets weekly for a book study. Support and accountability is based on common interests and passion, on friendship, on laughter, on respect for the experience and wisdom of others, on openness to have hard lessons pointed at ourselves.

A circle forms, somewhat unwittingly perhaps, around the community that is my work environment. This community includes characteristics such as vulgarity and gossip; it also contains mutual caring and respect. It might be quick to judge, it also quickly supports.

There is the circle of neighbours in our rural environment. We seldom encounter each other in larger groups, but this circle too teaches values, how to be, how to support and live well together in our corner of the RM. From this circle there is again affirmation, a sense of belonging and trust.

I suggest to Pat, to you, that circles of support and accountability are places where we can choose to put our trust and hope. They are not perfect, after all they are comprised of people like us. But within these circles, these communities, truths are upheld, and untruths, if we dare to hold them out, untruths will invariably proven as such.

I too left my childhood and teenaged years with my share of pain, of blame, of unfinished issues. I give thanks to all of the communities that have heard my rants, and have handed me the courage to open my hands and set the hard stuff free.

A favourite author, Richard Rohr, suggests that the best word for God is perhaps Mystery. I like that. I give thanks for all of the communities, all of the circles, which have allowed me to glimpse a little more of that mystery.

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