Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tribute to an Extraordinary Friend

John Stillion landed in my living room a few weeks after I was elected to the first-ever Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council. He was grand and elegant, equally reserved and irreverent, at the same time courteous and casual. I was intrigued. Little did I know I had been enchanted by the everyday magic of John Stillion.

I remember the day he came into the Blissful Soul, sat down on the couch and shared with me his latest idea, that of acquiring 4.5 acres adjacent to the Eagle Rock, on which a hiking trail would be built all with volunteer labor, adorned by wildflowers and offering vistas to the sea, free and open to the public. The idea was outrageous and untenable, and yet tears rolled down my cheeks as he spoke. I knew not how this outrageous idea would come to pass, but by his words, his passion and his vision, I saw it already done, a fait accompli. I committed myself in that moment to doing whatever I could to help manifest the vision of the Eagle Rock Canyon Trail.

John Stillion saw beyond what most of us see in the day-to-day reality of this world. It was as if he viewed the world through a stereoscope, with one eye seeing What Is, and the other eye seeing, with equal clarity, What Could be; indeed, What SHALL Be. His greater gift was his ability to SHARE his vision with such clarity and certainty as to bring it into reality, into present time, for the rest of us. His words planted a seed in the womb of our collective consciousness, his passion inspired each of us to participate, to come water the seed, feed the seedling, weed around it, and then step back and admire what “we” have done. What seemed outrageous and untenable that day in The Blissful Soul is today the Eagle Rock Canyon trail, built by all volunteer labor, adjacent to the Eagle Rock, adorned with wildflowers; one that I climb weekly to admire the vistas to the sea.

John Stillion possessed an uncanny ability to see the true strengths of anyone, as if he peered into your soul and connected with the truth of you, knew your purpose, your reason for being here. In the course of a casual conversation, he read your strengths, fired up your imagination, and engaged your spirit. When John Stillion invited you to lend your uncovered gifts to a cause or an event, you felt honored to be asked to participate, as if you had been handed an elegant, engraved invitation, rather than feeling roped into an obligation, duty-bound to show up. This gift of his brought people who hadn’t put their hands in the earth in decades out to plant in the medians, people who did not know their next door neighbors out to a community meeting on a precious Saturday morning, and people who had never owned a pair of hiking boots out to a fundraiser for a trail.

John Stillion brought us together by honoring our unique differences and then inviting us to a party to celebrate our vast array of opinions, passions, and personalities as if remarking on the colors of the rainbow with equal admiration for each of them.

John Stillion had a gift for transforming ordinary into extraordinary, the mundane into memorable. While generous with beautiful arrangements, I dare say he never arranged a simple vase of flowers, never contributed a simple centerpiece. Rather, John Stillion created an Environment. He set the mood and tone of the venue with a flash of fabrics and florals, with colors and contrasts, with textures and trims. Once the stage was set, he would retreat into the shadows and allow others to shine on the stage which his environment, perfectly designed to highlight and complement the performers.

Suffice to say he would not feel comfortable being center stage here at this event today. And yet something tells me he is deeply touched that so many of us, from different walks of life, representatives of different organizations, and even from different communities have come together here today for a single purpose.

As big as John’s vision, as tirelessly as he worked, and as dedicated as he was, John left us a few unfinished symphonies; medians not yet planted, Darryl’s garden at the summit not yet transformed, and the property on which the trail was built not yet funded. This, I believe, is John’s final gift to us. For if he had left us no unfinished business, we would have come here today, enjoyed a nice party, thanked our hosts, and gone home to Life as It Was. Instead, what John has left us are more opportunities to plant together, to work together, to BE together.

We at the Collaborative Eagle Rock Beautiful invite all to honor John’s memory and his final gift to us by donating of your own unique spirit, by rolling up your sleeves and planting in the medians or pulling weeds at the trail, and by financially supporting John’s final signature project, the Eagle Rock Canyon Trail.

We are pleased to announce The John Stillion Memorial Pathway, lined with bricks engraved with the names of donors, which will lead into the trail, reminding us all, as John would have wanted, that this land belongs not to any individual or organization, but to the community. For those wishing to make a greater contribution, engraved commemorative trail markers, to be placed at each quarter mile point, are available for $2500 each.  More information will be forthcoming and posted on the cerb.us website.

I realize these amounts are not within reach of everyone, and John would be the first to urge me to assure you that every donation is appreciated, no matter the size; and also that every donation of time, energy, sweat, blood, tears and, yes, pennies that you have already given is honored and received with gratitude. John Stillion attracted people who are generous with their gifts, each in their own way, and we thank each of you.

I am reminded of one of John’s favorite quotes by Margaret Meade, with which I shall close: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."