On Living Your Passion by Jessy Oberright
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
When I was a young girl, I remember my dad telling me that if I was really lucky, one day I would have a job that felt like playing all day. This memory sparked in the back of my memory as I sat listening to speaker after speaker eulogize Wendi Winters at her memorial service. Her family, her friends, her colleagues, her fellow volunteers all spoke of her boundless energy both in her work as a reporter for the Capital Gazette, and in the many pursuits she followed outside of her career. Everyone, it seemed, had been touched by Wendi somehow. It was obvious that her work and other interests gave her a profound and contagious joy. She was passionate in everything she did.
I was acquainted with Wendi through one of those pursuits. She was a fellow member at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. She was a tireless volunteer for the church. She was always there on Sunday, often as a greeter or an usher. She was a youth group advisor for my daughter’s youth group. I would see her on many of the field trips the kids took, despite the fact that all her own children were grown and gone. I once found myself wondering what kind of person voluntarily spends that much time with kids that were not even hers? And teenagers no less! She was at every special event, often serving in some volunteer capacity or other. She was so much a part of the church that I found myself unconsciously seeking out her flowing red curls bobbing above the crowd at her own memorial reception. There was a palpable hole in the congregation that day without her presence.
I knew Wendi was a prolific reporter, and a dedicated church volunteer, but as I listened at her memorial service about her work with the Girl Scouts, the Red Cross and the many other causes she supported, it dawned on me that Wendi Winters had managed to achieve something remarkable and rare. Wendi had embraced her passions. Wendi had not only found herself a job that felt like playing, as my dad had once told me about all those years ago, but she had managed to create a whole life in this fashion.
During the memorial service, Mayor Gavin Buckley jokingly commented that at one point he thought the Capital must have cloned Wendi because he couldn’t figure out how she could be in so many places seemingly at the same time. It’s more likely that the reason Wendi could work so tirelessly was because she was truly passionate about what she did. She was passionate about her work of telling the stories of the people of Annapolis. She was passionate about mentoring young people. She was passionate about her church and the work of affirming the worthy and dignity of every individual.
In positive psychology, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one reaches a state called “flow” where work ceases to be draining and become sustaining. The work energizes and leaves the worker in a deeply satisfied state. Sometimes it is described as being “in the zone”. I imagine that this is why Wendi was able to be seemingly everywhere at once. This is why she seemed to have boundless energy. One would imagine that someone who kept her schedule would be exhausted and dragging, but she was joyful and warm, and her outfit always looked fantastic. Wendi followed her passions in life, in both her work and personal pursuits, and she found flow. Not only had Wendi found it, she imbued everyone she met with her enthusiasm and joy, as well.
There is a gaping hole in the fabric of Annapolis without Wendi Winters. She was so ingrained and entwined within our community that nearly everyone has been touched or knows someone who has been touched by her loss. I know I will continue to look for her unruly red mane towering above the congregation on Sunday for a long time.
I believe that Wendi Winters has left us a duty to fulfill in her absence. It is to find our personal passions and begin to actively follow them. What are you passionate about? How can you make it an active part of your life? Whether it be art, music, writing, beliefs, causes, etc. these are the vehicles through which we can affect humankind. Wendi has given us a great example to follow, of how living one’s passion spills over to the next person, and the next person, and the next, like water. When water moves, more water flows in to take it’s place. Maybe this is how we can begin trying to fill up the void left by her unbelievably cruel and senseless death.
It is easy to fall into the drudgery of day to day life. It is easy to become victim to the daily grind. Wendi gave us a template for not being that person. By following her example of living passionately, perhaps we can find the renewed energy and the rejuvenated spirit to go beyond ourselves, to touch people, to initiate change, to make the world better for us all. It’s what I think Wendi would do.
More information about positive psychology visit this website.
About the writer: Jessy Oberright is a member of the Unitarian Universal Church of Annapolis, as was Wendi. She is also a local teacher at Montessori International Children’s House in Arnold and has long been passionate about her family, long treks, and enjoying the outdoors.
If you’d like to submit some words on how Wendi impacted your life, or made you think about life in general, please comment with your email address.Feel free to share...