March 2002

Ginny Purcell -
Reflections On A Staircase


by Ginny PURCELL

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In November of 2000 I was preparing to open new offices of the Care Management Coalition in space provided by Child and Family Services at 844 Delaware Avenue. I was not prepared for the flood of memories and reflections that washed over me as I drove around the circular driveway and climbed the spiral staircase of the old Lockwood Mansion. I knew this place years ago when it served as a retreat house for the Sisters of Mercy. The senior students of Mount Mercy Academy were required to “surrender” a precious weekend to the good sisters for the purpose of reflecting upon their future.

In case time had blurred the exactitude of memory, I dug out the dusty high school year book, remembering that we had captured that staircase in a photo that depicted young women neatly arranged on those generous steps. Sure enough , there we were!

After many years and multiple events, there was a peaceful coming together of a changing career and a place that housed inspiration and hope for many. In that setting long ago, I’d decided to enter religious life. I’ve returned to this place, not as a religious, but one whose career path has spiraled like the staircase and progressed from one step to another.

Back then, I flew up those stairs two at a time, as I mentally planned parties and conversations I would have when we were “released” by the sisters after our retreat weekend. Today, I greet this wonderful place with a different enthusiasm, but do not take the stairs two at a time. Forty years ago I unexpectedly found answers and inspiration in the shadow of this great staircase. Today, many dedicated men and women ascend and descend those same stairs in the service of children and families. The Lockwood Mansion now serves as a place of care, administered by Child and Family Services. As the Executive Director of the Care Management Coalition, of which Child and Family Services is a member, I am on a daily retreat as I reflect upon the constancy of compassion and committment to others that the people around me exhibit.

I am reminded of the many steps taken when we move from one place in our lives to another, and the evolution that those steps chronicle. Coming here, to facilitate the efforts of several organizations in collaborative ventures was a step away from the singular, large organization of United Cerebral Palsy that had become a central focus of my life. This was akin to climbing the staircase, three steps at a time. Since that time, nearly two years ago, other dreams of the seventeen year old Mount Mercy girl have found their way to reality.

Always drawn to the excitement of theatre and the fun of “hamming it up”, I answered the “call” of Mary Kate O’ Connell of Cabaret on the Square to join her troupe of “Divas” in the weekly performance of “Diva By Diva”, now the longest running show in Buffalo. I was like a moth drawn to light. It had been a prediction by the good sisters that I would one day write and “take to the stage”. I believe the staircase and balcony in the Lockwood Mansion has a theatrical aura that could serve the likes of Divas such as Juliet, Lady Macbeth or Auntie Mame.

Woven throughout these new adventures born from old dreams is the thread of introspection the dear Sisters hoped would anchor us to some spiritual place within us. We often intuitively know when a new “step” or challenge presents itself in the evolving process of our daily lives, but we are not always clear how it will unfold. Such was the case when asked several years ago to lead a group of Leadership Buffalo graduates in a self-reflective exercise of guided meditation and visualizations. The experience became the foundation of a new collaborative work with Jimmie Margaret Gilliam, well known local poet and author. Together we have created “The Joy of Making”, a series of workshops combining the arts of visualization and writing that stimulate the imagination and creative juices.

It’s been a fun and intense journey since last appearing in Living Prime Time in 1999. Each of us knows of pivotol moments, events, places in our lives that are like trail markers in the woods as we make our way. “Coming home” to a significant place triggers a connectedness between imagination and reality as well as experience with its lasting effects. Little did I imagine the future impact of a senior retreat or the serendipidous return to its setting.
   
There is one lingering and unfullfilled desire I recall having on that retreat of years ago, that being to slide down the bannister of that glorious staircase. Afraid of certain expulsion and “sister scolding”, I refrained from what I imagined would be the best bannister slide ever. The daily tempataion to slide down that bannister still persists. This time it is the fear of broken bones that keeps me on the edge of desire. Perhaps some day I’ll have that slide.

 

Ginny Purcell is the Executive Director of the Care Management Coalition.

 

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