Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Indefinite Embrace
By John G. Kruth, Executive Director - Rhine Research Center

I was nervous.  So nervous that I didn’t even realize that I was stammering continuously to anybody who would come near to me, punctuated by brief moments spent shifting my weight from one foot to the other while surveying the room for the next wandering soul that I would alternatively want to avoid completely or latch onto so that I would feel the comfort of a life preserver in a sea of excitement, fear, and confusion that was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.  It was during one of these brief interludes of uncomfortable alone time that my eyes were quickly shifting from one point to another and my mind was racing with a thousand thoughts including whether I needed a haircut and was wearing the right clothes for my new role. 

Who was I to stand here and present myself as a leader when I was only a few months into this organization that had so many knowledgeable and important benefactors and supporters? 

The doubt was beginning to set in and I felt the urge to melt into a dark corner, when, below my line of sight, I noticed a small woman who was immediately in my personal space – just close enough to provide for a private and intimate conversation, but not so near as to make the interaction uncomfortable.

With a bubble in her voice she said, “I am SOO happy to meet you!”

I had heard this from many people that night since it was my first opportunity to address the Rhine community as the new Executive Director, but it was what she said next that caught my attention.  “I just LOVE your hair!  It is so long and beautiful, and it just makes your spirit shine through!”  And then slowly, “You.. are.. ABSOLUTELY.. GLOWING.. tonight!”

It caught me off guard, and I smiled.  Her amazingly sincere appreciation and joyful enthusiasm knocked me out of my thoughts and into the moment.

This was the first time I met Karen Baumer.

Over the next few years I came to recognize that Karen had this same joy in her voice with each and every person that she would meet because she truly was overwhelmingly happy to find a new soul and learn all about them.  And learn she did.  Within a few minutes of meeting Karen, nearly everyone would open up, come out of their thoughts, and share their lives with her.  And, of course, Karen would also share her thoughts.  Typically, her thoughts were about how amazing you were, how interesting your experiences were, how GLOWING you were, and how you truly had to spend more time at the Rhine and meet the incredible people there.

Karen was involved in nearly every event or activity that was presented or sponsored by the Rhine.  From the Psychic Experiences Group, to the Dream Studies Group, to the regular research meetings, events, and the fundraising team, Karen would not only attend these meetings, but she would greet each person with such beauty and enthusiasm that they would immediately feel like they were part of a family… and an IMPORTANT part of the group. 

That was the feeling that Karen left you with.  You are IMPORTANT and your thoughts and ideas matter.  You are a unique person and your special experiences need to be shared with the world.  You are, for those moments with Karen, the most interesting person in the world, and everyone needs to know.

When Karen stopped showing up at meetings at the Rhine in late September, 2016, she was clearly missed, and everyone noticed.  Her seat was empty, and the large bag filled with notebooks, pens, sometimes candy covered almonds, and always a large, metal water bottle was missing from the meeting.  But, more than this, missing was the quiet insight that brought clarity and precision and reminded all of us that our work and conversations were about people and their experiences.  That was what resonated so strongly about our time at the Rhine - the community that we built together and maintained through our personal connections.

Karen’s illness came quickly, and she left us within a few short weeks.  This didn’t stop Karen from reaching out to every person that she knew and letting them know how important they are and how much she appreciated them… “… more than you can ever know”.

In the last days, before she passed, Karen was in everyone’s thoughts, and her presence was palpable at the Rhine, at PEG, in the healing groups, and just around the library where we spent so much time together. 

People manage their response to loss in many different ways.  Personally, I miss the connection and interactions, but, more than this, I feel a true joy to know that Karen has moved on and is able to experience the world and her spirit in a whole new way.  Though there are many new things that will pull Karen’s attention and fascinate her spirit, it is my belief that, at least for a brief period, she will continue to spend time with us at the Rhine and share the loving and caring connections that she still has with so many of us.

I will cherish the thoughts and memories of Karen’s physical life, and in those moments when Karen decides to enter our hearts and share her joyful spirit with us, we will experience her bubbly appreciation all over again.  For that brief moment, we will each be special, important, and the most beautiful person in the world.