A Tale of Three Gifts

Gift #1

July 4th would have been Karly Wahlin’s 33rdbirthday. She died at 27, weary from struggling with her challenging body and ready to leap into the new place she had glimpsed for years.

Her mother, Lois Swope, and I continue the deep friendship we forged through our love of Karly. The two of us are creating a keynote presentation that features Lois’s lessons from parenting a child with serious disabilities along with my music and reflections. Karly’s voice is also included through her writings and piano compositions.

Several years after Karly’s death, Lois offered me a touching gift – a handmade pillow that included fabric from Karly’s favorite soft white blanket. Lois and her husband, Gregg, collaborated on the design, making certain it included the river both Karly and I loved, plus pine trees and a red cardinal in honor of my father.

The pillow resides in the center of my couch and is symbolic for so many precious things: Karly’s wise and generous friendship, Lois’s clever hands, Gregg’s design insights and above all, being deeply known and loved.

Gift #2

Last spring, I was doing a series of musical keynotes for a large Catholic healthcare system in South Dakota. Sister Kathleen introduced herself after one of my keynotes. She closed our lively conversation with a mysterious question: “What’s your favorite color?”

Exactly 24 hours later, Sister Kathleen presented me with an exquisite handmade paper box. Inside was a chime made of seven royal blue glass pieces joined together with fishing line. As I lifted it from the box, its delicate music filled the room. Sister then handed me a small piece of paper with a list of seven gifts she saw in me. Each piece of glass represented one of those gifts. I read her words through happy tears. Is there any better gift than being seen, known and celebrated?

That chime hangs over my dining room table as I write this. I ring it whenever I need to remember who I am.

Gift #3

There is a new blanket on my bed. It’s way too hot to sleep under it in this high summer weather, but I keep it on there during the day, just so I can feast my eyes on it.

It was a gift from my friend, Julia Dinsmore. Our friendship spans decades and is founded on mutual delight, respect, creativity and veryloud laughter. I have written about Julia here before and continue to find great nourishment from her fierce work toward healing injustice. (Here is her well-known spoken word piece recited by Danny Glover.)

Julia bought the blanket on the Fond du Lac reservation in northern Minnesota. She has known my blanket’s designer, Sarah Agaton Howes, for decades.

Julia’s gift moved me deeply. It was outlandishly generous for one thing. It’s a glorious piece full of traditional Ojibway designs and was created in collaboration with Eighth Generation, the first Native company to produce wool blankets. Each time I look at it, it sings to me of honor, respect, beauty and long friendship.

Three gifts.
Three mirrors of the love that infuses my life.

Tell me, what gifts have meant the most to you and why?

About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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1 Response to A Tale of Three Gifts

  1. “Sister then handed me a small piece of paper with a list of seven gifts she saw in me.” This reminds me, Barbara, of a hand written book you gave me not long after I left PDI. You wrote, with little drawings illustrating, about the things you appreciated in me. As you’ve mentioned: I get it out and read at times, when “I need to remember who I am.” It’s one of the things I would try and take with me if the house were on fire.

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