by Brenda Rush
It began as a feeling, a soft wordless whisper that grew into an insistent urging. Finally, a relentless nudge propelled me. I began searching online for answers to a question for which I only had a few words. Over time, those keywords took me to retreat sites. Unfortunately, most retreats have only one subject of focus like yoga, writing, silence, art, wine, food, or the environment. Those topics didn’t address my unspoken question.
Then a retreat called “Women at Woodstock” by Ann V. Baker appeared. Common retreat subjects were mentioned, but friendship and support for women was the focus. That’s a chord that plays for me. Ann and I emailed. She was approachable, welcoming, and patiently answered my questions.
Truth be told, the idea to travel alone 2,000 miles for a stranger-filled event didn’t come from my risk-averse brain. Surprisingly, it came from a place of deeper need. Taking the leap to attend Women at Woodstock was my attempt to answer the question that finally rose to the surface: How do I passionately embrace life, try different things, and discover new opportunities that put a twinkle in my eye?
The first time I tentatively considered attending Woodstock, a re-occurring phrase came to mind: If not now, when? So, I bought tickets for the planes, trains, cars, and buses required to travel from the Panhandle of Texas to rural Rosendale by way of bustling New York City at rush hour.
Upon safely arriving at my destination, I met a houseful of women, and we slid comfortably into the four-day retreat experience. Women at Woodstock (WAW) opened a whole new world for me with a network of uniquely talented and resourceful women. It was amazing to see how so many energetic individuals had packed numerous successful lives and careers into their first fifty or sixty years.
In group mastermind sessions and one-on-one, they listened attentively to my accent and my ponderings. They saw my gifts and abilities; they encouraged me to act on new goals. I learned from their words and was inspired to be brave. They shared helpful connections and invited me to call on them as needed. (When I reached out to some of them months later, true to their word, they provided experienced, professional advice and shared invaluable insights.) Their words lifted me and carried me forward on my fledgling adventures into new projects.
After the event concluded, thanks to the artistic photos of Phoebe Stout, we all had images to enjoy. The candid shots were sweet surprises to those of us who were first-time attendees. Today, I keep a group photo in my office to remind me to stay connected with the women I met.
The next year, Ann invited me to present a talk about my freelance writing and copy-editing work, which I had crystallized as a goal during Women At Woodstock 2017 and achieved in the following year. I also took full advantage of meeting and discovering each gem of a woman in attendance. They are all treasures to be discovered. Even the quietest and most introverted can surprise.
Susannah Sinard was a hidden treasure I found in 2018. We quickly sensed we were kindred spirits and the more we talked, the more we proved the point. Information flowed revealing caches of similar life stories, questions, and goals. We both have two children. In fact, her son documented travel with friends through my state and Susannah suggested I view their YouTube Channel AdventureArchives.
Ironically, when I watched their videos, the guys sitting around their campfire one night reflected, “There are nice people everywhere.” Indeed, there are! One of them is Susannah, my friend, a sister in faith, an email buddy, and a published writer of science fiction.
I’ve lived in my town of 200,000 people for over 30 years and have wonderful friends, yet I’ve not met anyone here quite like the women who have become my Woodstock friends.
My family wants me to go to Ann’s retreat every October because they like what they see in me. They are proud of the changed woman I’ve become, but I knew she was in there all along. If my two-year experience is representative, it demonstrates each WAW event is unique unto itself and certainly worthy of my time and travel. It has been a beautiful answer to the quiet question that prompted my search. Now I look forward to other opportunities that come through future courageous adventures.
Brenda Rush is a copy editor and writer who tells stories that need to be told. She attended Women At Woodstock 2017 and 2018.