sisters – 2

a walk with friends

Several years ago when I lived in Chiapas, Mexico working for Witness for Peace, I was in Guatemala City for a work meeting. But it was also a chance to meet up with some friends with whom a month earlier I had a done a week-long walk in the Peten Jungle.


From Carmelita to Mirador – an ancient Mayan city now covered in jungle, and back. Click on map to see the locations.





We were accompanied by guides from Carmelita. We trekked all day, bathed in the river at the end of the day with alligators and slept in hammocks under mosquito nets at night.

Food and the making and breaking of camp were taken care of by the guides. Being looked after this way left us (six) tourists free to pick tics off each other, read, write, sit and stare at the trees or massage our feet. Hardly anyone wanted to go for a walk at the end of the day. We’d been walking all day, plus it was jungle. Except for the guides who had grown up in the region, the rest of us were in our discomfort zone and happy in our hammocks waiting for dinner to be served.

But I digress. While this was an amazing trip and I learned stuff about myself and the world too, I want to tell you about our reunion dinner party a month after the trip.


a dinner party with friends

At the beginning of the trip, some of us were acquaintances and friends, while others had known each other longer. We finished the trip close friends, picking tics and doing alligator-watch for each other while bathing can have that affect.

My new friend (who I’ll call M) and her then-partner were hosting the dinner party. I went with my friend (called K) to buy a cake to take to the party. It was a round, layer cake, chocolate I think. Covered with that white thick, sicky-sweet bakery icing, with pink trim and little rose buds made from the icing.


a fight with a friend

We walked home carefully carrying the cake box. At home, K opened the box and cut a piece of cake. She asked me if I wanted some. I said no.

Wait, what??!! No!

I shook my head, blinked my eyes. What is going on here? And then I said other things. I was freaked out. My friend was eating the cake. The cake that was a gift for another friend.

cake_palsThis sort of behavior was not “acceptable” in my social rule book, where a gift was to be given intact to the recipient. This view probably originates with my family up-bringing, and undoubtedly was also influenced by my years living in Japan where there are very specific social rules and etiquette around gift-giving.

K assured me that M and her partner would not mind. They were good friends and a whole list of other good reasons why eating a piece of cake was OK. And besides, what if she told me that in her family, or in her culture the tradition was to always eat a piece of cake or take a bite out of whatever food item you were gifting.

OK, I got it: Lighten up, let it be and just see what happens.

K was encouraging me to learn to relax and take a wider view of life. Let go of my rigidity to this fixed idea of what or how a gift must be. To not see things as simplistically as right or wrong, good or bad, black and white.

it was fine

So, we took the cake, beers and wine to M’s house, and no, she didn’t care there was a piece missing from the cake. I don’t know that anyone noticed really. By the time we got around to the cake, we’d stuffed ourselves on food that we’d day-dreamed about eating during our walk in the jungle, black_whitelaughed and cried ourselves silly sharing photographs we’d taken on the trip (yes, remember the process of sending off your film for development after a vacation?) and drank wine and beer. The cake, cut and served, was eaten with joy and tasted absolutely fine, even though there was a piece missing.

This is one of those exchanges with long-time, dear friends that has stayed with me, and supports me in my life-long learning journey to being a person a better person. Someone who – tries not to judge, but if so, I notice that I’m judging and work with it skillfully; accepts situations that make me uncomfortable or I may think are “wrong”, rather than trying to control or change them; and related, understands that there are always other sides or views about situations.


I didn’t learn this for the first time that day, rather it’s an example of one of those topics I keep coming back to in my spiral of life-long learning, deepening and integrating it more with the passing of time. The “bite out of the cake” story is a peg, a marker of one of those learning moments when I was turbo-charged into the next level of learning.

In this scenario friendship played a part, those friends who we can be ourselves with and be poked and prodded to show ourselves a little more. Even if that means a petty fight or disagreeable conversation. We get there in the end, and then we are more tolerant, flexible, open people.

And happy too, if there is cake!

sisters – 2

September is the birthday month for a handful of people in my life whom I treasure. Some of them are sisters, in fact. Sisters in the cosmic family sense.

See Sisters – 1 for more.

Sisters together forever” is an on-going series of paintings for women friends and family who have been part of my life in one way or another for a long time and / or through significant periods in my life. They are women who have deeply impacted who I am and how I am in the world. I am grateful for the things they have taught me.


Today also is my grandmother’s birthday, she was born 10 September 1912 and I think she was my first teacher of learning to let things go. I can still hear her saying (about some problem or complication that came up) “it is what it is”, a phrase that I use today and also find helpful and grounding.

“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”

Anaïs Nin





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