Updated: Mar 1
Since this stupid Pandemic started, my siblings and I have been having weekly ZOOM calls. We’re scattered across three? (maybe four?) time zones so that’s the best way to do to stay in touch. Nothing unusual here, lots of people are doing this these days, but I've been enjoying our calls a lot.
Partly because the technology behind the whole experience reminds me of those James Bond-type movies where the heads of the obligatory E.O.O.T.B (Evil Organization of Total Badness) get together in a video conference held in a vast dark chamber with giant screens, and plot they how they are going to strap Secret Agent 007 to a throbbing nuclear space laser, send it into orbit and blackmail the world for a million billion zillion gagillion dollars. Important discussions, folks.
But mostly I like the family ZOOMs because us Spencers are so gosh-darned entertaining! At least we think so. To date we’ve done online performances of three of my sister Jane’s murder-mystery dinner theatre plays – which have been truly marvellous. Audiences and critics have given them rave reviews -- well, we like doing them anyway and members of the extended family seem to enjoy watching them.
Other times we set up a prearranged topic to make sure we have something to talk about once we’ve gotten through the usual status report from each household. Heaven knows, we wouldn’t want a short conversation now would we? Often we choose topics that relate to our childhoods -- the times we lived in the same house, or at least in the same city – so there's lots of nostalgia and embarrassing stories all around.
One night as I was drifting in and out of sleep, in between dreams and the radio whispering COVID reports, I had an idea for something new: A Truth Sharing Session. The rules governing the exercise (complete with diagram) seemed to just pop into my brain. And unlike most dream-related experiences, I actually remembered most of it. So here's what my subconscious told me:
The Game of "Three Nice Things About: _________"
1. One sibling each.
2. We speak in descending order of age:
a.Carla talks about Cathy, then Cathy talks about Carla.
b.Margaret talks about John, then John talks about Margaret.
c. Jane talks about Hugh, then Hugh talks about Jane.
3. No qualifications or irony – only nice things, no sneaking in criticisms or complaints. So for example you can’t say things like: “You dress much better than you used to” or “You dress way better than Sibling X.”
4. Try to address:
a. When did you first notice this nice thing in your sibling?
b. Where do you see this nice thing in your sibling now?
c. How did/does this nice thing inspire you? What changed in your life because of your sibling’s nice thing?
To my delight, my sisters and brother all agreed to this interpersonal experiment and my John, being expert in community consultations and small group workshops, took notes of what we said. Some Highlights:
What Carla Said About Cathy:
Cathy is cheerful in the face of adversity.
Cathy shows an outward positivity.
Keeps her mind occupied on creative learning activities – ways to satisfy her desire to learn.
Has a very strong positive relationship/involvement with all her children’s lives
What Cathy Said About Carla:
Carla was Cathy’s (and all of our) protector from an early age.
Carla shares her skills freely.
Carla is completely dedicated to service.
Cathy appreciates Carla’s intellectual sharing, such as going to educational opportunities with Cathy (Education Week, Women’s Conferences).
What Margaret Said About John:
John has a generous spirit.
Margaret loves the way that John focuses on his family:
John works on relationships.
John is always interested in what the family is doing.
John is a great storyteller:
John is fun to be around.
What John Said About Margaret:
John asked Carole (his spouse) what she thought and Carole said, “Margaret really cares about EVERYBODY!”
John said Margaret is sensible in stressful situations.
Margaret is really well-read and erudite – she can follow any logic or story line in any kind of writing.
But most of all, Margaret is genuinely compassionate and is filled with the spirit of charity based on Christ-like love.
What Jane Said About Hugh:
Hugh’s creativity was evident from an early age.
Jane remarked on their fun in the station wagon trunk during family trips (doing silly skits and plays on road trips that took hours and hours and hours...).
Jane complimented Hugh’s good taste in music.
Jane went on at length at how much fun it was to be with Hugh, as they were the youngest kids and many of the others left relatively early. They “fed” off each other and the laughing was infectious. This brought back a lot of good memories for those of us who were on the edges of this.
Hugh is generous and encouraging to her and other writers—that he wasn't competitive but very supportive.
What Hugh Said About Jane:
Jane is the funniest person on Earth!
Jane is a great performer.
Hugh mentioned Jane and Margaret acting out Theatre of the Absurd plays like Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco...in the living room!
Jane is amazingly creative.
Hugh said that Jane is a person of great faith – not dogmatic, but is so strong:
Jane has a powerful sense of right and wrong.
Jane doesn’t give up.
Jane is a great parent – she has done an amazing job with the kids.
I learned some interesting things from our playing the "Three Nice Things About ____" game:
1. Everything everybody said was absolutely true. Regardless of many ways we have bumped into each other over the decades, the people in my family have been, and remain, really wonderful and remarkable people.
2. So I’m a very lucky little brother.
3. Not only are these fantastic things true, the game provided witnessed accounts that these traits are true. It’s one thing to get a complement; it’s a validation experience at a whole new level to produce evidence of the accuracy of the complement.
4. The outcomes not only revealed that we see what is good in each other, it’s also proof that we are actually paying attention to each other and how our lives are unfolding.
5. So tangible evidence that we actually care about each other! "Exhibit A, your honour, witnessed statements of actual, authentic love!" (Courtroom gasps as Perry Mason returns to his seat).
6. Can you think of anything more valuable? I sure can’t.
7. It’s humbling to have so much good fortune.
And I’m sure that sooner or later my siblings and I will get around to figuring out how to staple James Bond to some sort of weapon of mass destruction.