Fortifying ourselves

December 29, 2008

“Well, Blogger Girl,” my husband Bruce teased me last week, “how are you going to sum up the year? Tie up the details in 300 words or less?”  Bruce offered a fair challenge that I doubt I can conquer succinctly, yet his words impel me to write about a topic I have mulling for months…hoar frost.

A strange hook to keep you reading I know, but hoar frost (my children still don’t believe that is its real name) is the northern equivalent of winter dew. When temperatures play around freezing, and the snow becomes colder than the surrounding air, intricate complex crystals form to sit vertically on its back as the humidity fluctuates high enough to squeeze water from air.

Hoar frost in Montana
Hoar frost in Montana

Hoar frost in Montana

Hoar frost hasn’t ceased to captivate me in the past sixteen years of walking down the driveway to grab the newspaper. Its magical, ridiculous beauty in the middle of tire ruts catches and stops me when all I’m expecting are headlines. These front yard photos show the glittering results of early morning variations. Hoar frost is my winter reminder that any change can bring out the absolute best of us.


For humans, change brings disruption. It creates conflict when we are asked to let go of money, people, beliefs, jobs, favorite habits…and the list goes on. Change requires us to adjust and adapt, not a favorite human endeavor. It heightens fear and anxiety and can naturally bring out our worst.

Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women has spent most of her days over the past fifteen years assisting women and children in war torn countries like Iraq, Rwanda and Bosnia. Asking her how she bears it, she told me that conflict brings out not only the absolute worst but also the very best of humankind. The good fortifies her to cope with the bad.

Front yard Hoar Frost
Front yard Hoar Frost

Like Zainab, I look for the human equivalent of hoar frost. For example, last fall friends threw a “hat party” for our buddy Dawn who is going through chemotherapy. It was a marvelous evening of food, wine and about two-dozen women gifting chic hats to ease the transition to baldness. It was a joy to watch those in the room love up our dear friend as she modeled each new hat and talked about her experience with breast cancer. With somehow perfect timing, Dawn began to lose her hair the next day. 

The financial markets changes are naturally creating fear, anxiety and conflict. I am not surprised that many of my community are battling with spouses, siblings and coworkers as they worry about paying mortgages and job security. These are tough times. Yet, over the holidays I also happily took in stories of authentic, transformative conversations. These were delicious, give-you-goosebumps tales of healing relationships and deepening friendships. During their telling, I was reminded that we are paradoxically lucky to be in the middle of these global messes; they are affording us the unique opportunity to create dazzling displays of compassion and kindness. Big change creates unique openings that are not present during stability.

I have missed a lot of front yard beauty over the past decade when I quickly drove off to work or was late to a child’s event. That thought fills me with regret. Be it hoar frost, a hat party or a transcendent conversation, I really don’t want to miss any of it. So, that will be an overarching New Year’s resolution for 2009 — try to catch everyone, Nature and me included, at their very best.

I leave you with three questions to reflect upon as we complete 2008:

·     What could be your “dazzling display” in the coming weeks or months?

·     How can you support your wellbeing so you might bring forward your best? 

·     How can you encourage the good of others during this chaotic period as a leader, parent, family member or friend? 

May the coming year serve up ample beauty to fortify you through any struggle. Happy New Year!

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

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