Essential Reflections

David Crump

David Crump died on February 29.  I am glad he came to our 25th anniversary event last October.  Here is the text of what I said at his memorial services in California and Philadelphia.

I first met David the way thousands of others did.  He was the guy up in front of what we learned to call the “Arc,” conducting the Essential Experience Workshop.  After my experience, I was part of the group that helped bring David to Philadelphia to conduct the workshop.  From 1989 until he retired in 2006, my wife and I served as his Assisting Conductors and local Managers.  A few years before he retired, David and I agreed, during a walk one windy day on the beach near Half Moon Bay, that I would succeed him as Conductor of the workshop.  Since 2007, I have been conducting the workshop in Philadelphia (as well as a couple of times in Boston).  We recently conducted the workshop for the 100th time in Philadelphia, and most of those were with David in front of the Arc.

One of the songs we play during the workshop has the following line: “The only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind you when you’re gone.”  As I have missed David over the past month and felt my sadness and loss, as well as my appreciation and gratitude, these words have come back to me several times.  The love David left behind him includes his gifts to his family, his friends, and his communities.  Others have spoken to that legacy.  I can speak from my own experience, as his partner in the Essential Experience workshop, of the love he has left behind through this part of his work.

I should say first that love is at the core of the Essential Experience Workshop.  We don’t say it quite this way in our marketing materials, but David was clear about it and I do my best in orienting the volunteers who support the workshop.  After we give the instructions about how to support the exercises, I always conclude with the overriding instruction.  When you don’t know what to do, I tell them, love the participants and love each other.  This is how the workshop works.  We do our best to communicate to each person in the workshop that he or she is loved.  Once people let that in, sometimes for the first time in their lives, it becomes possible for them to envision and make changes in their lives that seemed impossible when they did not feel loved.

It is as simple – and as complicated – as that.  It is complicated because David got that it was rarely helpful to talk about love directly.  It was more important to live and model it.  I remember some of the times he did speak directly in ways that moved me.  We have sometimes had participants in the workshop who are very religious, and, for most of them, this fits well with their work in the workshop.  One time, however, a participant was finding that her religious commitments were preventing her from making changes she wanted to make.  David responded very personally about his own religious commitments and joined with her.  Then he said, “What I have learned is that what is important about religion is the part that expresses love.  The other part I let go of.”  In that moment, I could see her let go and let a door swing open that she had been holding closed.  And I could see David speaking directly from his heart about what his Christianity meant to him.

I also remember the summer graduate workshop in Cape May when David was reading Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved.  Each day he would share a part of Nouwen’s account of what it means to feel loved, not in the simple sense of affirmation, but in the deeper sense of being known in one’s flawed and broken humanity and loved anyway.  I saw during that week not only Nouwen’s insights and stories, but David’s feelings and meanings as he shared them and interpreted them with us.

These few moments were ones, among others over the course of decades, that I remember as times when David was most direct and explicit about the love he was inviting us to share.   But the practices we learn in the workshop are the everyday work of love:  Giving caring and honest feedback; sharing of feelings we might otherwise withhold; risking to speak up for ourselves; offering the attention involved in listening actively to others; extending ourselves in service; and releasing ourselves in celebration and enjoyment.  David’s design offers these skills and practices of love to all who participate.  I am pleased to be, in my own way, carrying on this legacy.

I want to add to this an appreciation of some of the practices of love that David modeled more personally.  The first that comes to mind is his astonishing ability to be non-judgmental and non-defensive.  He would listen to people, even when they were angry with him or critical of him, with a kind of care that I have rarely seen.   For most of us, our immediate reactions close us down and make it hard to see others as anything but dangerous attackers.  David seemed, more than anyone else I’ve met, to be able to hold himself open, responsive to others’ concerns, when most of us would be tempted to retaliate.   At the same time, he didn’t give himself away, but somehow made himself even more visible, with the result, most of the time, that some new place was reached rather than the familiar embattled truce.  It reminded me of my favorite line from Rumi, who wrote: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”  David was always inviting us to meet him there.

A second more personal quality I want to mention is David’s palpable enjoyment of his life.  There are many examples, but I will mention his participation in the ritual of Team Party.  This is the time, after the workshop ends on Saturday night, when the Team gets together and dances and plays and presents skits about the workshop.  EE’s version of Saturday Night Live.  In the last years, David couldn’t attend because he needed his rest, but, until the last few years, he would be sure to come downstairs from his room in our house to our living room where the skits were performed.  He was, of course, often played by one or another team member with glasses, bushy eyebrows and a sweater vest.  Sometimes he would come down in his robe just for the skits (something which traumatized my children) and his deep laughs at the festivities and even the jokes at his expense would help all of us enjoy ourselves all the more.  To be with him, engaged in celebration, sharing a glass of red at the end of the workshop, or walking in the mountains or on the beach, was to enjoy our own lives as we shared his infectious enthusiasm for his.

Finally, I should speak more personally – something else I learned from David.  He left love behind him in many ways of which I have given only a few examples here.  But I want to say that David also loved me.  He told me so and showed me many times.  For me, his love was an important support for changing my own life.   When I met him, I was a lawyer, married with two young children.  I was also a person who always needed to be right, who was anxious about doing things perfectly, who was judgmental about the weaknesses of others, and who had lost his father just a few years before.  How my career and life would have gone had I not attended the workshop, I will never know, but I can say that feeling more loved freed me to ask questions and consider possibilities I had never considered before.  My marriage and family, my work and career have flourished and become deeply satisfying in ways I wouldn’t have even known how to ask for.  I came to see how being more loving myself and accepting more easily the love of others could create openings for a larger, richer life.   David’s personal confidence in me to support and succeed him enabled me to embrace gifts I didn’t know I had.  David’s love for me opened my heart and inspired me to work at extending and expressing the love he gave me and so many others and to make that a central part of my work in the world.

I miss him, I am grateful for what I received from him, and I hope to pass along to others the love he left behind him since he’s gone.