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The 15th Anniversary of Turning Green

November 22nd, 2019


Last night was one of the biggest in the history of Turning Green: our 15th Anniversary Benefit Dinner. And I felt utterly heartbroken that I could not be there to celebrate the organization I proudly co-founded that has defined and enriched my life in countless ways. I lay in bed in physical pain, mental agony and emotional turmoil as photos and videos from old friends, best friends, colleagues, mentors, near-strangers, chefs and students rolled into my phone, inbox and feeds all night — of my mother’s opening speech (the fierce activist with whom I started the non-profit), a masterful multi-course organic vegan gourmet dinner (while I cannot even eat solids), the climate panel which a longtime environmental hero stepped in to moderate in my place (during which she publicly sent me massive loving energy from the room), Project Green Challenge Finalist students sharing about the transformative impact of our hallmark program on their lives (why we do what we do!), selfies of friends of mine from different walks of life blissfully meeting each other (and wishing I were there by their sides), everything. I wept, feeling all at once missed, removed, devastated, inspired and compelled to go — for them and for myself. [Yes, this is long, but unfiltered and straight from my tormented heart…]

How could I possibly miss my favorite evening of my most cherished weekend of the year, when our brilliant Turning Green student ambassadors, Project Green Challenge Finalists and partners converge on Marin County from all over the world for four jam-packed days of inspiration, education and mobilization? Since co-creating this program nine years ago, the PGC Finals weekend has been the jolt, the hope, the proactivity that I have always needed amid the grind of life, pressures from the outside world, climate crises, social and political challenges left, right and center. I look forward to this annual dinner, a homecoming that brings together incredible members of our community under one roof around one cause — and never more than now, as we mark fifteen years of our non-profit, a number I still cannot believe and of which I am so very proud.

The support of people in and around Marin County and the natural products world since 2005 is why Turning Green has sustained, blossomed and achieved — and with the organization, so too has its 13-year-old co-founder (me!), who just thought she was doing something crazy with her momma on a Sunday afternoon in eight grade. Yet here were are!

All I wanted was to be at our celebratory event and feel that infectious energy, elevate our purposeful mission, honor exceptional young leaders, and give thanks to our community — who raised me, shaped me, inspired me, taught me the meaning of grassroots activism and organizing. The giants upon whose shoulders I stand as an individual, and WE stand as an organization, were in that room, a true support system that has always meant the world to me, and never more than throughout these harrowing times of recovery. I have not been out in public or seen even my closest friends in the nearly three months since my accident amid ongoing surgeries, procedures, treatment and healing — because I have not felt able or ready physically or mentally. I wanted to show up for Turning Green, but this was neither the correct nor appropriate place to reemerge into community. The night was not and is not about me, rather our incredible cadre of diverse, multigenerational, new and longtime supporters and the awe-inspiring Turning Green students.

Still, I wanted to show up for my mother, and could not let that one go. They say it takes a village, and our organization is living proof of that — though there is one woman who is the chief of our Turning Green village and the chief of our little family: my phenomenal mother, the powerhouse grassroots activist, tireless community champion, visionary force to be reckoned with, role model of the utmost integrity, strong yet vibrant rock, passionate creator, dreamer-doer angel that is Judi Shils. Still vacillating back and forth, as I knew the event was nearing its close, with no dress, no makeup, no jewelry, no plans and no warning, I fixed my bandages, put on the wide-brimmed floppy hat that has become my uniform, bundled myself in a protective coat, and took an Uber to the venue five minutes away. When I arrived outside the beautifully decorated, warmly lit room with glass walls and long harvest tables packed with happy people conversing and eating, I panicked. What had I done? Why was I there? How could I expect to walk into that space, even if just to hug my mother, when I hadn’t been around any social atmospheres in months? I began to shake uncontrollably, only compounded by the cold. Everything that was once familiar and beloved felt terrifyingly foreign. Similar to the sensation I often experience of being a bystander to life passing me by, there I stood: watching, longing, seeing glimmers, ever closer, yet not able to breakthrough. I breathed deeply, repeated affirmations in my head, reminded myself why I wanted/needed to do this, and unsteadily entered the building through its back kitchen. I waited for but a moment as my mom concluded the program, then wrapped my arms around her shocked self, burst into uncontrollable tears of relief, pride and anxiety, whispered gratitude and blessings into her ear, and swiftly disappeared back into the abyss, neither speaking to nor making eye contact with another soul. I collapsed exhausted and drained into the backseat of my Uber, tears streaming down my cheeks, my head a blur of mixed emotions and deep-seated fear about what I had just somehow managed to do, why it meant so much at my core, how my mother would interpret my actions, whether others had seen and what they would think, as well as the clearly long, unpredictable, tumultuous road that lies ahead for multifaceted recovery. I came home to an empty house, took the handfuls of pills that are my new normal, carefully brushed my teeth in a sadly-unalarmingly bloody mouth, and retreated to the safety of my own bed.

While wholly confusing, somewhat frenetic and perhaps ill-conceived, that whirlwind was monumental to me on various levels. It confirmed that I CAN take risks without perishing in the process and WILL confront any fears and overcome seemingly insurmountable pain to show up for my mother with gratitude and strength, yet my body is STILL shockingly weak and mind NOT yet ready, able or remotely comfortable to be around large numbers of people, even those dearest to me. I can only hope that my mom feels appreciated, honored and supported not only by me as her child, but also by every soul who has crossed paths with Turning Green or with Judi in any aspect on her rich life over the years, on the marvelous against-all-odds path she continues to forge with grace, resolve and impact.

The gathering was powerful, resonant and beautiful, like this organization — flourishing without me, a simple truth which fills me with great pride. We stand for the power of people, of community, of knowledge, of vision, of co-creating new realities, of collaboration, of action, of bringing others along with you, of not giving up, of dreaming and doing… and as I have this unexpected time to pause and reflect on what matters and what lies ahead, I have never been more sure of the critical importance of our Turning Green values and mission, the life skills with which we equip our students, the in-depth hands-on programs we run locally and globally, and the robust coalitions we build than right now.

Over fifteen glorious years, the structure has been created, the models proven, the pump primed, the thoughts sparked, the curiosity triggered, the movements launched, the teams coalesced, the aspirations outlined, the impact clear, the future bright… but only together can we make anything a reality. Not only do I want, but I really truly know in my heart of hearts that such a reality must include decades more of the magic that is Turning Green!

(And to those I haven’t gotten back to in the past few days, I humbly apologize. My head is still pounding from yesterday’s brain scans, from which I don’t yet have results, and body reeling from that traumatic experience, as well as the gravity and rollercoaster of last night. Plus, my mouth situation is inexplicably worsening. I wish all were different, but such is my day to day ordeal. Please know I appreciate you. Please stay the course. Please remember I love you.)

Read more of my journey here. 
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