For the past twenty-four hours, I’ve been thinking of Edna Caila Rossenas, who was known back in the day to her classmates as Edna Stott.
Having broken the garlic bulb into cloves, I was starting to peel the papery skin so I could chop it into tiny bits. I was standing in my college drama professor’s home; it was where Moshe Feldenkrais was staying the second year of the Amherst training.
The voice I heard over my left shoulder asked, “Would you like to learn an easier way to do that?”
That’s when I turned, saw that genuine smile and your sparkling eyes, and said, “Yes, I would.”
“I learned this from a Greek lover many years ago.” As she reached across the counter, Edna grabbed the large chef’s knife, saying, “You line the cloves up in a row on the cutting board. Put the flat side of the knife over them and, then, smack it hard with your fist.”
Lifting the knife, Edna revealed the slightly smashed cloves, neatly separated from their former coverings. I didn’t know it then, but that moment was the beginning of my apprenticeship. She was fifty-six years old, and I was twenty-three.
It was not until later that summer, when we were at the Howard Johnson’s on Route 9 (I checked online just now, it’s still there) for the all-you-can-eat Friday fish fry, that it became official. By that time, we’d had many meals together, discussed literature, art, and the history of the world and our families, talked about cybernetics and Bateson, and she’d given me my first Italo Calvino novel (Invisible Cities) as well as a half dozen hands-on lessons.
Along with Gaby Yaron and a couple of dozen trainees, she participated in the NeuroLinguistic Programming classes I was teaching one evening a week. I recounted how John Grinder and Richard Bandler, after studying Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson, demystified these therapists’ marvelous, supposedly magical, abilities. I was teaching the methodology they created, which made the process of transformation accessible and learnable.
Edna was talking about being in Tel Aviv with other members of the San Francisco training. After Moshe finished giving lessons, she described how her classmates, all of them a decade or more younger, were “puppy-dogging” around him, plying him with questions and vying for his attention and approval.
She had kept out of the fray, holding back and observing. Moshe’s ideas and strategy fascinated Edna, especially in the ways they built on the sensibilities and skills she had developed as an art teacher. Looking straight into my eyes, she exclaimed, “As important as that was, I became a Functional Integrator through osmosis: by watching Moshe give one lesson after another, from one day to the next.”
That’s when she made that most startling proposal: “I’ll teach you everything I learned if you’ll help me understand what I’m doing.”
Edna’s question, my enthusiastic consent, and the subsequent years of being her pupil — attending her classes and workshops, traveling together, getting lessons from her, and then, eventually, giving them to her, taking on her classes in Mill Valley when she retired — created the foundation for the teacher and, ultimately, the trainer I have become. And our relationship wasn’t just during the early years: by being on the faculty of the first teacher training programs I organized, she ensured our collaboration continued.
I am so grateful for Edna’s counsel and direction, her abiding belief in my abilities, and, most of all, her friendship. Teaching postgraduate courses, creating mentor trainings, and coaching colleagues, so much of my career has been about paying forward the debt of gratitude I owe her.
Keith called shortly after seven this morning to let me know that Edna passed just a couple of hours before. I am forever thankful and oh so sad.
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