Posted by: MC | February 14, 2012

The Highest Point in Austin

Last night I stood in my friends’  kitchen.  Lori, the mom of the family was working on white bean soup and her eldest daughter, Eliza was sitting on the counter delivering the speech she’d give in class the next day.  Eliza is 14 and a first year high school student at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a public school in Austin,TX.  Her speech was on the life of that great woman leader of Texas, and Eliza delivered it in the way of performance art — in the voice of Ann Richards herself.

I was raised in Texas.  Born in Jefferson County to migrate w/ the family as my father went from post to post in the Presbyterian Church.  That means I’ve also lived in Tarrant, Nolan, Kerr and Grayson counties…always in the County Seat.  Listening to Eliza last night I heard Ann Richards’ voice describing her years navigating the terrain of motherhood woven now closely, now loosely with the emerging political events of the time.  Eliza had looked particularly at Richards’ years leading to and including her important role in formal state and national positions linked with advancing the Equal Rights Amendment.  I remember that time.  I remember being a bit young but paying very close attention to the women in the community.  I heard Richards’ name  then, but it was way before the constant media presence of today, so I likely never saw her in a photo or film until she was governor of the Lone Star State.

This morning I woke up to a gray-skied chill of Portland’s marine mists — here in Austin.  Maybe wherever you go, the places you live in live in you. I thought of Ann Richards’ leadership.  I thought of my women friends in Dallas who gathered to encourage me — all leaders supporting leaders.  I thought of the two women from high school days in Kerrville — the town in south-central Texas where I’m going today at the invitation of the generous folk of that community to talk of 100 VOICES — AMERICANS TALK ABOUT CHANGE.  

Anne and Gail now live closer to Austin.  Anne left her twin 5-year-olds in trusted care, Gail took time off work as a pharmacist and they took me to lunch at the East Side Cafe in Austin.  Our friend Don, a remarkable teacher in St. Francis School in Austin and also a graduate of Tivy High School, joined us.  There were Migas and Blue Plates involved — organic everything grown just outside and in the middle of the city.  As the plates were cleared to make room for the blueberry crisp and chocolate-almond-chocolate chocolate torte (did I mention the chocolate?), our conversation turned to the mystery and practicality of listening and being in relationship — in particular to the relatedness of all people, all beings.

Anne and Gail are Texas women.  They and my Dallas friends are leaders of the most reliable kind.  Some are more public than others — all are leading by the way they live in and with the interests of community close in mind and heart.  That goes for the men who joined us as well — they too are leaders — one way they lead is by working well and closely with women.  We all lead by supporting one another — by being present and paying attention in relationship.

I walked in this morning’s mist to the highest point in Austin, Mt. Bonnell.  I passed cacti on the way, variously cradling and dangling the day’s droplets.  From the crest of Mt. Bonnell, I could see the lake — the one that is down 30% from its ought-to-be levels.  The mist would help, but only a little.  Later in the afternoon, when the sun had coaxed every bit of the blue back into that wide open sky, I met with Jim HIghtower, the former TX Agriculture Commissioner and erstwhile inspiring voice of political conscience.  Hightower is, as he has always been, convinced that our first move is to get money out of the political process.  A formidable critic of the greed in exclusive interest, he persists in his optimism — in  his confidence in the ultimate wisdom, ingenuity and cooperative nature of the people of our country.

My friend Lori is a friend of Hightower’s.  The three of us sat together around a hefty mission-style table in a room with floors, furnishings and sculptures of philosopher wanderers all fashioned from wood native to the region that has stretched forever on either side of the Rio Grande — land to the north known as Texas and to the south as Mexico.  Much like my time with Sara B Moseley, this was a meeting in which I wanted to pay close attention.

Leadership and mountains — a 14 year old, her sister and parents; my friends in Dallas; my friends from Kerrville; Sara B Moseley; Jim Hightower.  Leaders.  All the people who have spoken and listened to 100 VOICES — AMERICANS TALK ABOUT CHANGE are leaders, too.  These are people who listen closely to their neighbors near and far — who trust the essential connection among all of us both to contain and yield wisdom that can guide positive action.  “It happens all the time,” Hightower said.  “Just look around you at what’s working.  There’s plenty to build on.”

When we risk the radical act of listening — to the land, to one another — when we take the chance of resting a bit in the trust and optimism these leaders both represent and LIVE, then we too lead.

The weather comes and goes.  The landscapes change.  Books are written and read or not.  Lives begin, proceed and end.  All along the way we have opportunities to engage the change.  Like the cacti in the mist we really have no choice but to be in what changes, and like the leaders I’ve been encountering in Texas, we have the option of standing firm in the strong places and joining with one another to make changes that are good for all of us.


  1. woke up early this morning, still excited from and by the visit of Mary and Mark to the TX Hill country this very special Valentine’s Day; one which I will not forget for a long, long time. As I listened, along with 50 some others in Ryan Hall, at the First Presbyterian Church, Kerrville; I looked around at people listening, thinking and listening, excited and grateful to be there among special friends. love & peace, Stan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: