Creating a Life

Today’s guest post comes from a friend with whom I have cherished memories of galumphing through Scotland and England–drinking LOTS of tea, enjoying plays, memorizing poetry, and discussing life, love, future, literature and more literature and a scattering of theology (she was one of the first female theology students I met in college and she introduced me to the work of one of my favorites, Henri Nouwen). I admire her–and her current life’s work–more than she knows, and I’m thrilled she agreed to create for the blog. Having just returned from a week of family vacation, I too am thinking about the memories and experiences that create this life, the time spent, rather than the stuff accumulated, that makes all the difference.

Create Challenge #25: Jennifer Root Wilger

For some time now, I’ve been engaged in the all-encompassing work of creating a school. It’s been an amazing journey that has resulted in the creation of a student body, a dedicated staff, and a curriculum so unique that we had to create a new word, “socio-academic,” to describe it. Yet, strangely, as I approached this opportunity to write about Temple Grandin School, other creative endeavors have captivated my imagination. These are both related and unrelated, and I suspect it is partly the expression of my own creativity that prompts me to look for connection.

When I was assigned a blog date in July, I knew I’d be away from home, traveling with my family. As it turns out, vacation is a great time to think creatively. It’s not such a great time to think creatively about the work I left behind, and am soon to resume. Instead of thinking about work, I’m thinking about family. My 25th wedding anniversary is approaching, and my in-laws have recently sold the home that welcomed me into the Wilger tribe. To commemorate this beautiful spot, nestled in the mountains of Colorado on the Florida River, I created a photo book, which we delivered to my husband’s parents last week. As we looked through years of kids growing up, holidays, and summer fun, even my father-in-law cried.sf_trip1

Days later, on the same trip, we took our kids to San Francisco. Drawing on his college experience living in the city, my husband eagerly plotted a route that would lead us through his favorite neighborhoods. We spent the morning exploring and creating experiences to add to our collection of family memories. Unfortunately, while we were out and about, two bags were taken from our car. We had left nothing of monetary value – no iPhones, computers, purses, sunglasses. In haste, the thief had grabbed my bag of books. The bag I always bring with me on vacation, and mostly abandon in the back of the car. The bag of good intentions, too heavy to cart into one-night lodgings. The bag of half-baked ideas, and the resources that I hoped would power them to fruition.

I felt like I’d lost half my brain. But as I frantically tried to reconstruct the bag’s contents, I realized that we’d also lost a small stuffed monkey. Imbued with laughter and love, this little critter had been a part of our family for our children’s entire lives. Out of a huge menagerie of animals in a faraway place, he “found” us and followed us home. His real and imagined antics are a part of our family culture. Through our tears, we immediately launched into tales of his next chapter, in which he would, of course, continue making his mischief in the world. “I can just see him karate-chopping those thieves,” “I bet he’s on his way to Las Vegas…does he know they don’t accept bananas as poker chips?”

Our memories and experiences are the foundation upon which we create a life. The relationships we build (yes, even with inanimate objects) form and shape us in ways we can’t predict. Returning to the topic of creativity, I can see clearly how relationships and experiences from my entire life have contributed to my creative endeavors at Temple Grandin School. In the coming weeks, as we approach another school year, new conversations will generate ideas to augment or replace those that I’ve “lost.” New relationships will form even as existing bonds are strengthened. The school takes on a life of its own, a creative community powered by our shared life together. I can’t wait to see the surprising places creativity takes me, my family, and our entire school community this year.

JWilger fam

Jennifer Root Wilger is Executive Director and Co-Founder of Temple Grandin School, a creative community where intentional relationships and experiences enable students with high-functioning autism to recognize and realize their potential. Over the course of her adult life, she has been paid as a writer, editor, teacher, and caterer. These and many other experiences have enriched her life and family. Jennifer is married to Tom (for 25 years!), and they have three children, Micah (20), Jeremiah (13), and Josette (10). They live in Colorado with their 4 fish, and are currently seeking to add more mischief to their menagerie!

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