By Grace Maselli
The Tampa Bay Timebank took on the subject of grief and loss in its Third Tuesday of the Month member and guest meeting on Tuesday, October 20. Psychotherapy and hospice-trained experts from the TBT leadership team—Nancy Wolf, Christina Bellamy, and Judith Rose—guided about 25 participants in a Zoom meeting to recognize and honor the various faces of grief. The tender examination of loss and its effects included disruption to mourning by Covid-19 and people forced to be separated from loved ones infected or killed by the virus. Grief was discussed in the context of the profoundly unsettling absence through death of someone loved and the painful adaptations necessary before adjustments can be fully integrated.
Giants in the field of grief and loss were invoked: psychiatrist, humanitarian, and hospice pioneer Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her five stages of non-linear grief—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, and leading death educator and grief counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt at The Center for Loss & Life Transition.
Grief can cause a broad range of symptoms both emotional and physical, TBT’s presenters reminded us—from forgetfulness and detachment to everyday life, to fatigue and chest pains.
The discussion, inclusive of a small group Zoom breakout session, extended to the significance of rituals and their power to comfort people in deep emotional pain. Even within the context of Covid, family members, friends, and neighbors can reach out, safely drop food off for grieving families, and be present to another person’s pain with attentive, compassionate listening. Rituals can demonstrate that even in active mourning, we can still be surrounded and cared for by people who remain in our lives. With presenters drawing on Dr. Wolfelt’s work, we understand this can arguably happen (even now using masks and social distancing) through “companioning” with a person who has experienced a loss, being present to another person’s pain—going into the deep wilderness of the soul with another human being—and honoring the spirit, not the intellect.
Grief and its stages, our TBT experts offered, are ultimately a natural and adaptive response to deep loss. The experience is singular and personal and does not follow a prescribed path to reach a given level of adaptation.
The presenters also shared community resources. Following is a partial list of Tampa Bay Area organizations available to assist individuals and families:
- The Life Center of The Suncoast Inc.
6811 N Central Ave, Tampa, FL 33604
- Compassionate Friends
6938 Riverview Dr, Riverview, FL 33578
- Unity North Tampa [First Sunday of the month, 12:30-2:30; donations accepted]
19520 Holly Ln, Lutz, FL 33558
- Soaring Spirits International, Tampa Bay Widowed Persons Group
By Grace Maselli
You’ve heard of it, right? Fun fun fun. To say the least, COVID’s put a kink in the pleasantries we took for granted—in the freedom to move around, pre-quarantine. All the more reason why the vital reminder to rip the Band-Aid off ho-hum and jump into some safe boisterousness, or amusements you’re personally stimulated and refreshed by, is so more important. We have Maureen Murphy, Executive Director of Tampa’s Life Enrichment Center, to thank for a stellar Zoom talk to about 25 people during August’s Third Tuesday of the Month event on August 18.
Maureen’s exhaustive and inspiring presentation on the benefits of fun even in the context of lockdown stirred participants to share what they do to let their coiffs out of the hair net—get into “flow” where time effortlessly slips away— as it motivated others to amp up fun time and creativity in their daily lives. Maureen talked in depth about the psychological and physical health that fun can mean for the psyche and the body. With pure enthusiasm she delighted us with factoids and substance: Fun reduces stress. It helps people cope better with stress. It trips the seratonin switch, a good brain chemical. It boosts energy and memory and concentration. And when you make fun a habit, it’s relaxing, it pumps up positive feelings, it helps you sleep better, and it improves the relationships you care about. Whao!
The sky can still be the limit if you turn that box upside down and see things from a new angle! Here are some ideas:
- Dress up your dog and snap some pix for fun…
- Do cartwheels in your backyard
- Go to the beach on a Wednesday when there are fewer people
- Make art with LEC
- Get creative with cooking
- Do 20 jumping jacks in your living room
- Take the St. Pete’s Mural Walking Tour
- Blow bubbles lakeside
- Cut up some magazines and make a collage to tell a soul story
- Join The Rumpus Book Club
- Jump into The Sofa King Music Fest
- Check out BroadwayHD shows for less than the cost of a standard Netflix subscription
- Explore new podcasts that make you happy and inspired
By Grace Maselli
There’s Rocco and his brother. And Chevy, Chance, and Blue. And don’t forget Goose. Goose is a dog. A dog who looks like an Irish Setter and has nine brothers and sisters. There’s Nyx the cat too, named for the Greek Goddess of Darkness—a nine lives cat who survives despite the strong odds of being eaten while living in an encampment in the woods.
What do these dignified, intelligent, and unconditional lovers of people have in common? They’ve all been rehomed by Ellen Paul, Founder and Executive Director of the Nature Coast Community Services Foundation, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit; NCCSF’s aim it is to do what it takes to get homeless people living in the subtropical backwoods out from the elements and snakes and into homes and jobs. More formally, NCCSF and its small coterie of devoted volunteers’ mission is to “identify and help fund social needs existing in Florida’s Nature Coast region that are not adequately addressed by existing governmental or private organizations.”
“To date,” the NCCSF’s website makes an important point of noting, “we are getting one person a month on average out of the woods, into a paying job, and into permanent housing. But for every person whom we help escape homelessness, another one or two [more] find us.” Ellen puts the approximate number of lives changed at 43 since NCCSF’s formalized founding in October 2018, two years after Ellen began her deeply spiritual—strategic, logistical—and compassionate work.
TBT learned more about Ellen and NCCSF at the recent Third Tuesday of the month meeting on July 21 with 30 people in attendance by Zoom and a focus on the topic of building community.
For Ellen, the community of homeless people she and her volunteers help all started with the Rocco’s and Chance’s of the world—homeless people’s dogs and Ellen’s passion for them: This mother of renewal and invention understood canine love from the get-go and what it continues to mean for homeless people on a deep, archetypal level. “The general public will often say, ‘Why do these people have pets? They can’t even take care of themselves. I get a lot of blow back,” Ellen says. “People just don’t understand that these animals are the only source of companionship, love, and protection many homeless people have. Whether an animal is trained or not, whether it’s a dog or a cat, it doesn’t matter. Everyone needs to be loved.”
Living in a Station Wagon with a Five-Year-Old
Things arguably got underway in Ellen’s world with a big woman we’ll call “Chauncey.” Chauncey is a middle-aged female described as 6 ft. tall, about 300 lbs., and living in a station wagon with her five-year-old grandson. “Everything they owned was in their car,” says Ellen of the family, including a 60 lb. dog—people and their beloved pet who were displaced when Chauncey lost her job because of illness. “When this happened, everything unraveled,” Ellen says. Ellen first met Chauncey in a homeless encampment in Hernando County’s Masaryktown woods (until the police threw the dispossessed off the site). “Nearly every person in those woods had a pet; some people had three or four,” Ellen says. She would know. Her job continues to be handing out clothing and food, “and talking with people, to understand where their heads are, to see what we can do to help them.”
One day after such a visit to the woods Ellen “got a strong sense” that Chauncey wanted to talk. “I asked her if there was anything she needed and what she asked for was dog food.” Chauncey’s dog hadn’t eaten in several days when Ellen encountered the family because Chauncey couldn’t afford the cost of the food, or gas for that matter; the whole family including the dog was hungry. “That morning we had met Chauncey she managed to scrape together enough money to get to the Hernando County pound to surrender her dog. But she couldn’t do it. She was crying all the way back to Masaryktown. She was crying and praying for a sign,” Ellen says. “And then I showed up with a 50 lb. bag of dog food. It was the first time I was called an angel. It’s way above my pay grade to be called that! But I understand the gratitude that comes with the remark.”
Four-Legged House Guests
“The dogs are deeply important to these people,” says Ellen, who has personally taken care of homeless people’s dogs in her house so people would agree to get surgical procedures done. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t go to clinics or hospitals,” she says of the deep attachments to animals. Ellen’s most recent canine house guest was Rocco, a puppy pit bull.
“Lyla” was about 62 years old and homeless in the Masaryktown woods when Ellen met her. Lyla was in love with her all-black cat, Nyx. So much so she wanted a better life for her. “Lyla said, ‘This is a special kitty. She follows me in the woods like a dog. She talks to me all the time; we talk together. I want her to have a long life and lots of friends.’ And then Lyla handed me the cat,” Ellen says.
Among the services Ellen and her volunteers provide through NCCSF is low-cost spaying and neutering through the PetLuv Spay & Neuter Clinic in Brooksville. “I’ve had dozens done,” she says. The day Ellen was taking Nyx to be spayed the vet told her the cat was pregnant. “Neutering would have killed the kittens in utero, and I couldn’t do that.” So instead Ellen kept two of Nyx’s babies and found reliable, loving, indoor homes for the other two kittens.
A third recipient of NCCSF’s efforts is a woman, “Charlene,” who the nonprofit had helped for a number of years. When Charlene ended up in jail, she asked her friends in the Masaryktown woods to take care of her three dogs. One of them, Chevy, was left without food or water and to fend unsuccessfully for himself. “Chevy looked like he’d just gotten out of Auschwitz,” as Ellen describes it. But even in his emaciated condition the fawn-colored Chevy was a big boy at 60 lbs. and anticipated to grow to 150 lbs., according to a veterinarian’s estimate. Despite her heartbreak over losing him, Charlene went to Ellen and said, “I need your help to get Chevy out of here.”
The Universe Is Listening
“So I put the word out to the universe and said, ‘I need a home for this dog,’” Ellen explains. Within a couple of hours the universe got back to her. Ellen got a phone call from another homeless woman, “Pam,” who told Ellen, “I need a large dog. I need him to be a service dog. I have seizures.” And as soon as Pam got word about Chevy, she immediately wanted him.
Most people living in the woods have jobs, Ellen says based on her years of experience. But these are routinely low-paying, part-time jobs that don’t generate enough money for even a modest rent and living expenses. “Corporations are not hiring for full-time work, so they don’t have to pay benefits,” in many cases, Ellen says. This reality leaves little choice than to live in the woods and participate in the gig economy—short-term contract work or day labor, let’s say, compared to permanent jobs—so people can survive.
And as the universe would also have it, Pam, who was continuously moving on foot or bicycle between Weeki Wachee and Brooksville, is a professional dog trainer. Within seconds of Charlene and Ellen introducing Chevy to his new owner, “Chevy focused like a laser beam on Pam,” Ellen remembers. “And within another five minutes Pam had him sitting on command”—the bent elbow, fist up, configuration in the dog training world. That first night together Pam had two seizures, and Chevy knew instinctively what to do without any training: He stretched out behind Pam to soften her fall and created as much cushioning as possible. “Two days later Pam had Chevy walking through Walmart—this is a dog who had never been on a leash before.”
Now Pam and Chevy are inseparable. In Pam’s meanderings across the nine miles between Weeki Wachee and Brooksville, Chevy is in heaven and in lockstep, jogging alongside the love of his life as she pumps the pedals of her bike through the subtropics. They stop at the halfway point where a store owner gives Chevy water and Pam also gets refreshed. “Chevy loves Pam and he loves the exercise,” says Ellen, who also helped Chevy go legit with the right service dog paperwork to confirm he’s the real deal. “We got Chevy rated as a service dog with the paper to prove it. So if Pam goes into the hospital, or jail, or Walmart, Chevy goes with her,” Ellen says. Chevy is an extension of Pam.
“The whole thing is a miracle,” says the Founder of NCCSF. Besides seizures, Pam grapples with depression too. “Chevy comes over and licks the tears off her face and leans into her for comfort,” Ellen says with a kind of childlike wonder. As of this writing, Ellen and NCCSF are gifting Pam and Chevy a four-man (one-dog) tent to give the wanderers a much-needed, deeply appreciated home base in the woods—a precious space to call their own. “There are so many incredible stories like this,” says Ellen. “They’re pure magic.”
In honor of this magic, donations of pet food, clothes, and towels for wet dogs in the woods and, of course, cash, are deeply and thankfully accepted by NCCSF at the organization’s website.
By Grace Maselli
Wanna joint TBT in supporting the local Tampa community? No better way than to bring it on down to “Celebrate 40 years of peace, love, and music on 88.5 FM” and let art and music rule the night on Saturday, November 9. Here’s what the WMNF Community Conscious Radio and Living Mirror Playback Theater have to say about it all:
“In 1979, WMNF took to the airwaves after volunteers knocked on doors seeking support and talking with people about the dream of a unique radio station: A community radio station featuring music and public affairs not offered on mainstream radio. Forty years later, that dream is still a reality. We’ve made many friends along the way and have a lot of stories to share. We will celebrate the stories of those dreamers and all the friends they have made over the past 40 years with the help of Tampa’s own Living Mirror Playback Theater.” One of our very own longstanding TBT members and high-velocity community activists Christina Bellamy is an improvisational theater performer with Playback, a troupe that travels the Tampa Bay area engaging audiences in impromptu storytelling directly from participants’ lives, with audience members watching Playback enact quick tales on the spot.”
Saturday, November 9, 2019
|Where:||Tampa Friends Meeting House
1502 W Sligh Ave, Tampa, Fl 33604
|Cost:||$10 advance, $15 day of show requested donation|
|RSVP:||813-238-8001 and talk to Miss Julie to reserve your seat; space is limited|
By Grace Maselli
Put it in your calendar: Sunday, May 19 from 3 to 6 PM. TBT and its friends and guests will be self-expressing and chowing down on potluckery on a Sunday afternoon. Coming together as a community to connect and share. And of course we have a theme! We’ll be festooning the tree pictured here. Guests should plan to bring a personal emblem, ephemera, memento, relic, small photo, object, remembrance, Roadside America gadget, souvenir, or bauble, to hang from a tree branch—anything participants feel is a reflection or symbol of who they are. It can be store-bought, homemade, borrowed, rented, picked up at a yard sale, accepted on temporary or long-term loan. You name it. Could be a mini collage, a symbolic animal that represents what you value in strength, speed, ability to camouflage. It could be something that sparkles to represent engagement with the world around you. It should be about the size of a standard holiday tree ornament, maybe no bigger than your hand. Anything you conceive that is valuable to you and authentically symbolizes what you want to share with guests, is fair game. But it must be able to hang from a tree branch. So get out your glue gun, tape, sealing wax, paste, chewing gum, stickem stuff, and ribbon, string, fishing line, cord, twine, dental floss, or copper wire to make it work. (To make it dangle from a branch!) Plan to bring a yummy, crowd-pleasing dish to share. And prepare to let us know why you chose what you chose, then pick a place on the tree for your object. We’ll hang all pieces from the tree and take a community photo as an area-wide timebanking keepsake! Let’s come together to satisfy our collective hunger for stories and to build friendship!
|Date||Sunday, May 19, 2019|
|Address||2128 Park Crescent Drive
Land O Lakes, FL 34639
Between Collier Pkwy and Livingston Road
|Questions?||Contact Grace at email@example.com
By Grace Maselli
Gratitude. I aim to be mindful of it not just at obvious times, not only at positive turning points, but daily. But I have to admit, some days this mindfulness works more fluidly than other days. This past Saturday I rushed my 19-year-old son to the ER after a two-hour drive north from Tampa to Orlando where he was in final exams week for his first semester of college. He contracted an off-the-charts case of mononucleosis that otherwise “self-resolves,” docs were saying. When we got to the ER my son’s fever was 103.5 and his heart rate was 133, both high, but the latter especially so for someone only 19 years old. More technically, his hemoglobin levels were tanking as his liver enzymes climbed, which meant both levels were moving in the wrong direction. “You just got unlucky,” one physician was quick to point out as my son was hooked up to IV fluids and “broad spectrum” IV antibiotics while umpteen blood-related tests were being run. The antibiotics were for a co-occurring bacterial infection noted by white blood cells in his body where they ought not to have been. My son went from a bed in the ER to outpatient “observation” to full in-patient treatment over a five-day period.
From the start members of the Tampa Bay and Spring Hill, not to mention people from the St. Petersburg Timebank, had my back. At 4:30 a.m. on Saturday I sent the first email notifying members in Spring Hill that I had to cancel my participation later that morning as a volunteer for two hours with a yard sale, and a two-hour stint later in the afternoon with another member assisting with her home organization project. This tipped my member-friends to the unfolding situation and the support was forthcoming from there.
I received routine check-ins from TBT and Spring Hill through text messaging and email and across the entire arc of the experience. Within a day I had a no-cost place to stay in Orlando if I needed it. (As it turned out, the hospital generously let me bunk in the empty double-occupancy bed next to my son once he moved into in-patient care. Another beautiful and unexpected gift. Not mention the fact that my manager gave me the time away from work needed to be with my son.) I was immediately put in contact with other timebank members, including those from Pinellas, who have expert information on how to rebuild the immune system. I have an ongoing timebank-driven consult for my son on the best dietary choices as he moves to rebuild his “organic” immunity through his long period of convalescence. I even now have timebanking hours I can use for life coaching as we head into 2019 that comes directly out of this intense experience.
A Reminder to Keep a Look-Out for the Gifts,
No Matter Their Size
My intention is to fortify my daily practice of taking account with even greater presence of mind those things large and small that fill me with gratitude. From the gorgeous, nostalgic smell of crushed leaves wafting toward my nostrils as my bike ambles over them, to the news that my child’s fever and heart rate are beginning to normalize, and everything in between. I am equally fortified to return the favor, and have deeper compassion for my timbank posse. And to the physician who said to my son, “You just got unlucky,” I gently, meaningfully say to him through the finite, revisionist dialogue in my head, “‘Dear sir, au contraire.'”
By Grace Maselli
In the words of British-American philosopher Alan Watts, “Thoughts and words are conventions…and it is fatal to take conventions too seriously.” He used money as a case in point in his 1951 book, The Wisdom of Insecurity, A Message for an Age of Anxiety. “Money gets rid of the inconveniences of barter,” Watts offers. “But it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth, because it will do you no good to eat it or wear it for clothing. Money is more or less static, for gold, silver, strong paper, or a bank balance can ‘stay put’ for a long time. But real wealth, such as food, is perishable. Thus a community may possess all the gold in the world, but if it does not farm its crops it will starve.” A relatable point. And the last time I tried to make stew out of $5 bills, it was lousy.
Watts’ caveats beg additional questions:
• Have you ever known anyone who takes money too seriously?
• Have you yourself been anxious about money?
• Have you thought about this recently, as we immerse ourselves in the holiday season and dreams of a magnetic floating bed for $1.6 million? (Yes, it’s true. Such a thing exists.)
• What is real wealth anyway?
• Is it more than moolah?
• Has your view of it changed over the past 10 years?
• The past 20?
• How do you think about children, teenagers, mothers, and seniors in the context of money-making and “wealth?”
• Do you have wealth in health? In a support system? As a way in which you express and exchange usefulness in society, and in your local community?
A Baby Gets Birthed at the London School of Economics
Edgar Cahn, Timebank founder who is now 82 years old, was interviewed earlier this year by Forbes magazine and has long thought outside the polyhedron when it comes to the issue of money and its power, if left unchecked, to define worth. “All sorts of things don’t get valued in our current economic system, despite having tremendous value. Notably, the unpaid work of mothers to care for, educate, and otherwise support their children.” A podcast with Edgar and Forbes’ Devin Thorpe explores timebanking, an economic model that Edgar initially took to the London School of Economics for feedback and legitimacy (read: a reality check) when he was first birthing his brainchild.
These days the baby is all grown up. “There are over 500 timebanks in the U.S. and at least an equal number spread out over 38 countries,” Edgar says in the podcast. “In Wales, [timebanking] is recognized formally by the national government. Scotland just had a two-week celebration of timebanking and ‘co-production’,” he adds.
Three things undergird timebanking, Edgar says:
- Core Economy: There’s an economy we undervalue and take for granted known as “unpaid labor”: This economy raises children, makes strong families, makes neighborhoods safe, makes Democracy work, and keeps the planet sustainable. It’s the ecosystem that’s as basic as the ozone layer we took for granted,” he adds. “We need this ecosystem as human beings,” and, “There is a larger economic system than that which is driven and counted by money.”
- Currency: “Money does some good things and some strange things,” Edgar says. “Money defines value by price. So if it’s scarce, it’s valuable [think a magnetic floating bed]. If it’s more abundant…it’s dirt cheap or worthless. [This translates to mean] that being a human being is worthless,” given the abundance of humans on the planet, he says. When we “listen to each other, care for each other, come to each other’s rescue, stand up for what is right, oppose what is wrong,” we are coming together as the social animals we are, and timebanking is a system that honors and values—assigns worth to all this. And therefore assigns worth to all people by designing a different type of currency where one skill hour is worth exactly the same as another skill hour and gets exchanged equally within the timebank system. In other words, an hour of childcare is worth the same as an hour of work on an architectural plan.
- Co-Production: “We must enlist the persons whom we’re trying to help as our partners or we can’t succeed,” says Edgar about a core timebanking principle. Timebanking is based on this give-and-take, a partnership of skills exchanges to benefit everyone who’s bought into (no pun intended) the model. People in timebanks have partnered with others to help them in their life “processes.” This can extend to health recovery, lowered rates of recidivism in drug addiction and mental illness relapse, creation of civic patrols in neighborhoods to help make them safer, among countless other examples. Timebanks can be used to “build and meld” community, Edgar says, “and as a stream to generate specific programs.”
Listen to the podcast and keep an ear open for “homecomers.” Consider what it might mean in the context of real wealth, and if you believe there are some things that exist beyond quantification in dollars and cents. The takeaway from Edgar: “We have what we need if we use what we have.”
By Grace Maselli
That’s right, at TBT we’re 590 MEMBERS STRONG with a tally of 23,398 hours exchanged as of this moment in time! We’re making valuable deposits into the local community with no bank tellers, no dollar transactions, no drive-throughs! Rather, we pay dividends to our peeps using skills swapping and connection to our local residents in an alternative system of shared interest and assistance. We’re contributing rides, fixing toilets, grooming dogs, and gardening for each other. Tell your friends. Expand the network of neighborliness!
By Grace Maselli
Time as Money is a 70-minute documentary directed by Lenore
Eklund and released in 2015 featuring, of course, Edgar Cahn. In it, the beauty of skills swapping, “alternative” currency, creating a network of support and a “secret economy” that builds real life, real world, REAL (not virtual!) connections between humans figures largely. Ironically, it looks like a direct download will run you $2.99+. Or, for a free copy, you can always set your sights on that venerable, enduring community system: the public library. “Everyone has something of value to offer,” says Cahn in Time as Money. Who wants to host a movie night at their place? Invite TBT timebankers and earn hours. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org