Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

Index Cards (Jul-Aug 1997)

Filed under: — @ 10:52 pm and

by Scott Brunner
July – August, 1997

The workshop facilitator placed a pile of three-by-five index cards in front of me and grinned.

“Everyone take four cards and pass the rest around,” he told us.

I watched the stack of cards make its way around the horseshoe of tables, shrinking by four each time it passed through the hands of a participant. A dozen or more prospective leaders, hand-chosen, half-awake, sat fidgeting in sweats and Nikes, holding the cards and wondering what would happen next in this Saturday morning leadership workshop.

“This is an exercise in balance, in holding on to your priorities and not losing sight of what’s really important,” said the facilitator. A couple of us shifted uneasily in our seats, already uncomfortable with the possibility of revealing anyting too personal to this group of new friends.

“No one will know what you write down,” he continued, reassuringly. “Think broadly, but be specific. What are the people or things or concepts that are the most important in your life? Write ’em down there, one per card.”

A few began to write.

“Only four?” asked a guy sitting near me.

“Only four,” said the facilitator. “You have three minutes.”

I looked at my cards, thought a minute, then on the top card, in my sway-backed block letters, printed “Karen and Claire” – my wife and child. That was easy.

I glanced around the room at the other participants. Some were writing furiously; some stared at their cards or the table or the wall or out the window, lost in thought.

Next card. Think. Okay … “Roots,” I scratched – “My parents and grandparents, extended family, a sense of who I am.” I shuffled that one to the bottom of my pile and looked at the third card, blank.

Hmm. Religion? No, not religion per se. Spirituality? Egh. Or faith …? That’s it. I jotted “My Faith” across the third card.

Last card. “You have 30 more seconds.”

Yikes. What? Integrity? Well, yeah, but not exactly. What about “Professional competence – being good at what I do.” Aw, that sounds goofy. But important.

“Time!” said our leader. I scribbled it down.

“Okay,” he said. “Spread your four cards out in front of you and look at them.”

We complied.

“Now, of those four cards, I want you to take the one that is least important to you and toss it into the center of the room. Just toss it into the center of the horseshoe here.”

There was a pause, some nervous chuckles. Then cards began to flutter onto the mauve carpet. I looked at my four, picked up a card, hesitated, then reluctantly let it fly. Ouch.

“Good,” our leader said. “Now, of the three cards you have there, pick up the one that is least important to you, and toss it into the center here.”

No one moved. For the longest instant, silence seemed to lay upon us like one of those leaden, protective X-ray vests, as we each realized where this was going. We reflected, weighing the cards before us. I exhaled heavily, picked up a card, sent it sailing out. My remorse was instantaneous; a knot began to coil in my stomach. How could I have thrown that one away? What was I thinking?

I stared at the floor before me, littered with cards, and flushed angrily at one that had fallen face up in front of my table. “Good weather for golf,” it read. here, we were dissecting our souls, and someone wanted to be cute.

The woman next to me sniffled, and I looked up to see her reddening eyes. A bright, translucent tear plunged down her cheek as she, like me, pondered this symbolic, but very personal, divestiture of what we held most dear. The exercise was moving us beyond lip service, forcing us to grapple with the agony of physical separation from something loved, cherished.

“You have only two cards left,” the facilitator said slowly. “Take the one that is less important to you … and throw it away.”

I agonized over my two remaining cards – tangible representations of things precious, irreplaceable, sacred – and for a while, I couldn’t move. No one did.

“Throw it away,” he whispered.

Painfully, I took one by the corner. It slipped from my fingers and fell silently to the floor near my feet.

“The exercise is over,” said the facilitator softly. “Let’s take a 10-minute break.”

After a moment, people began to stand and stretch and head for the coffee pot, out the door and down the hall. When they’d gone, I sat there for the longest time, numb, just beginning to come to grips with my choices and grieving for that part of me I’d been forced to throw away.Wineskins Magazine

Scott Brunner

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