So… what is SPACIOUS?

SPACIOUS is a movement of open-hearted people. Are you in? We're a hub for sharing and creating ideas and events to bring people together to find community and to love neighbors. Cary Umhau writes our blog. Let's include your stories too. Email us!

Guest Post by Stacie Marinelli, Spacious Sharing During Cancer Treatment

Posted by on Feb 15, 2014 in Empathy, Featured, Guest Post, Silver Lining, Spaciousness

Guest Post by Stacie Marinelli, Spacious Sharing During Cancer Treatment

SPACIOUS is about community and opening up our hearts, so when Cary spoke to me last year about guest blogs, what came to mind was the almost magical sharing that went on between people who surrounded me during the time I was in treatment for oral cancer in 2012 and 2013. With my family far from the DC area and living on my own, in large part I was making treatment decisions and going to radiation, surgeries, and other medical appointments by myself. It turned out I wasn’t really alone.

Here is my truth, without romanticizing what was a scary and difficult experience. Let’s start with one of the surprising spaces of community and caring: Each day, when I opened the door of the waiting room of the George Washington University Hospital radiation center, I entered a sacred space. The four radiation technicians were kind souls who understood and witnessed the wide range of responses faced by those laid out on the treatment beds. Even more comforting, the people who were getting radiation for their own specific cancers, all the while fighting their personal demons (like fear, pain, and anger), came together for the short time we met in that transitional space to acknowledge our shared trauma and to comfort each other however we could. One man, viewed by many of us as a sage, dispensed wise advice, in his slow Southern drawl, about making the most of life and being patient as we navigated our cancer treatments. He said he felt cancer was teaching him about life. Others in the waiting room would say “Good luck” or would murmur other comforting phrases as we were called for our sessions.

After my very last treatment, I entered the radiation oncologist’s office for an appointment and encountered a very special woman, a fellow patient being treated for breast cancer. She was tall and majestic, draped in a long colorful dress. When I shared with her the news that my sessions were ending, she told me, “Rejoice!  Rejoice in your victory!”  Her presence and words inspired a poem about being grateful for my survival and for life itself. (more…)

Guest Post: Agam’s Birthday Project

Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 in Featured, Guest Post, Spaciousness

Guest Post: Agam’s Birthday Project

Today’s guest post is from Agam Rafaeli (pictured in the hat), who will introduce himself below. I (Cary) had the chance to meet him at the recent wedding of Joey and Rebecca Katona, when Joey told me that Agam was someone he particularly wanted me to meet. In the spirit of the post below, Agam and I were both eager to make a new friend and connect around our mutual love of Joey. So we slipped away from the band during the reception and spent a little time getting to know each other.
When we then connected through Facebook, I found out two cool things about Agam immediately. The first is that he writes his Facebook posts in four languages — Hebrew, Arabic, English and Spanish. And second, I came upon a fabulous birthday project that Agam is doing, and I signed up! Here’s Agam’s story:


Call me “Agam” or “Raphael” if you can’t figure out how to pronounce “Agam.” If we were sitting across from each other sipping beer I’d ask you what you do and what you are interested in. As this post can only be a monologue I don’t have that privilege. There is no doubt that you would ask me the same, though as this is a monologue I am able to answer.


My name is odd because I’m Israeli. My English phrasing is a bit off because most of the time I think in code as I’m a programmer. Most of the things I do are practical because that is the way I have become since endeavoring to be an entrepreneur. Though most important for this post you should know that in two days I will be celebrating my 26th winter with family, friends and Facebook friends. Instead of the usual birthday party at home or at a bar I decided to do something different. (more…)

Best of 2013

Posted by on Jan 14, 2014 in Empathy, Featured, Spaciousness, Year in Review

Best of 2013

Reflecting on a year past is one of my favorite exercises. I spend much of New Year’s Day each year sitting by a fire, poring over the past year’s calendar day-by-day and perusing photos of the year. I try to marinate in gratitude for what has happened and for people I’ve encountered and from whom I’ve learned or benefitted. I map a point of basking in the possibility of what could be if I could learn from mistakes, amplify successes, partner with others, risk boldly, step into longings, admit what I want and slow down enough to prioritize it.

One thing that jumped out at me from 2013 was this: a number of people impacted me significantly through relatively minor actions that they may not have even known touched me. I want to highlight a few:

  • One couple invited me over to dinner to discuss a book I was reading for a class I was taking. They suggested, accurately, that it might be a little lonely to not have someone with whom to bat around the material.
  • A young woman asked me to accompany her on an errand that she wanted to do in response to another’s crisis. She felt a little shaky and honored me with her request that I simply keep her company.
  • A friend challenged me about an article I read and loved and shared, inviting deeper conversation around our quite disparate views while acknowledging the similarities between us too.
  • Multiple friends introduced me to other friends that they love, sharing the wealth of cool people.
  • Another friend went with me to visit an elderly friend of mine and now will bear witness with me, in the wake of the latter’s death, to someone quite amazing.
  • Two friends read three different versions of the book I’m working on, taking the time to annotate, discuss, coax and challenge me to keep persevering in honing it.
  • Three guys who regularly hang out together welcomed me over and over into their triumvirate, acting as if the circle wasn’t complete without me. (more…)

Why Are So Many People Pissed Off about Miss America?

Posted by on Nov 22, 2013 in Empathy, Featured, Identity

Why Are So Many People Pissed Off about Miss America?

An Indian-American woman was crowned Miss America this fall. And her coronation led to a firestorm of angry, cruel venting on social media, the perfect platform for cowardly people to spew venom anonymously without repercussion.

A few points:

  • America’s white majority is diminishing, and we’re richer for the diversity.
  • Fear of losing one’s (perceived) position often motivates hate speech. It seems like we’re all looking for someone whom we can consider inferior to ourselves or our people.
  • The poison of hate, vomited even (or especially) anonymously, permeates and cheapens our culture and chokes us all like filthy second-hand smoke.
  • Celebrating others’ successes, whether we know the person or not, enlarges us personally and contributes to a culture of kindness. Why not tweet something that elevates the discourse and doesn’t make people feel like they’ve been slimed?

Here she is, Miss America.

(Not So) Happily Ever After

Posted by on Nov 12, 2013 in Empathy, Featured, Reality Check

(Not So) Happily Ever After

Artist Dina Goldstein did a series of photographs depicting what might have actually happened to each of the Disney princesses if “happily ever after” is only in the movies.

She says, “I began to imagine Disney’s perfect Princesses juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me, such as illness, addiction and self-image issues.”

I love these — mostly because most of us compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides. We even look at Disney princesses (or princes) and compare ourselves, unfavorably of course.

Life is great, but it ain’t perfect.

And the sooner we realize that that’s true for everybody, airbrushed or not, princess or pauper, the sooner we’ll get on with loving our own lives, helping others, and appreciating the good.


Photo credit: Dina Goldstein, of course (though this photo is cropped so please go to her site to see her great work as it should be viewed).


Operating Room Flash Mob

Posted by on Nov 8, 2013 in Featured, Spaciousness

Operating Room Flash Mob

This will likely make you happy, and you may even forget that the woman at the center of this operating room dance party is about to undergo a double mastectomy.

Watch the video of this operating room dance flash mob. 

As a cancer survivor myself (19 years!), I love the idea of being proactive as you go into surgery, not waiting passively on a gurney while getting more and more nervous by the moment. Of course it probably helped that the patient is also an OB/GYN so I imagine she can bend the rules in the OR a bit. (She also knew the cast of characters who danced with her).

After watching, ask yourself what I’m asking:

  • What is it about this video that’s inspired 3.5 million people to watch it?
  • What are we responding to?
  • What would be a parallel action in our own lives that would bring about the same feeling or perhaps a needed change of perspective?
  • Is there something you’ve done that you could share with others to inspire them?

As the saying goes, “Dance like nobody’s watching.” Or dance and let ‘em watch. Or, even better, dance and invite others to the flash mob.

An Off-Key Addition to the Choir

Posted by on Oct 21, 2013 in Featured, Identity

An Off-Key Addition to the Choir

I can’t sing. Not reliably. Sometimes I have thought it was my imagination… but generally, down deep, I’ve been pretty sure this is right.

I love to sing, and I do it, but when I least expect it an awkward squeak or a loud note that doesn’t blend quite right with those around me comes out.

I was in the church choir back at First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia when I was young. And I bow down and kiss the feet of the choir director, Herb Archer, who never told me how bad I was. He let me love being there, part of something that felt special and important. Yes, Mr. Archer avoided outing me. Or perhaps giving birth to three children or having my hair turn grey changed me from a proficient singer to, well, sounding pretty bad.

A few months ago I was with a group of folks out in Seattle. We had been part of a nine-month cohort together in a class and had become close. On our last day, we sat around singing, with a few of the super-talented ones leading the way with vocals and guitars. Entranced by the moment and by the poignancy of our together ending, I whipped out my cellphone and hit “record,” capturing 14 minutes of our spontaneity and laughter.

The recording makes me happy. I’ve listened to it many times. But the truth is that I was tempted to delete it when I heard my own voice, my way-off-key voice. I stick out. Even my own ear can tell that something’s not blending, somebody’s not blending, and that somebody is ME. (more…)

Touching Strangers

Posted by on Oct 11, 2013 in Empathy, Featured, Spaciousness

Touching Strangers

Most photographers capture life as it is, but Richard Renaldi shows us humanity as it could be.

Richard Renaldi is a photographer who puts together “total strangers who were meant to be together, if only for a moment.”

He poses them in pairs, groups or families with body language usually reserved for relationships of comfort and familiarity.

Of course it’s awkward at first for those who choose to participate, but many people react with surprise over how much comfort they feel by being connected with someone, how much they care for a stranger after holding the pose for a brief time.

Watch the video of Steve Hartman’s On the Road report for CBS and read more here. And find the Touching Strangers project further documented here.

What are the implications of this for even acting as if we care for someone (much less touching them, which does of course have its limitations)? Would we feel closer if we engaged in behaviors that we normally reserve for more established relationships, acting “as if?” Do feelings follow intentions?

I’ve written before about eye-gazing parties and cuddle parties, both popular mechanisms by which people connect.

Maybe we can start with hugging the people with whom we already have relationships. Or being open to exchanging a few words or a kind glance with strangers or — if we should happen to come upon Richard Renaldi in the street — being willing to pose with a stranger with expectation of feeling some kinship.

Risk leads to potential connection.


PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Renaldi (of course!)

Let’s Start Imperfectly or We’ll Never Start

Posted by on Sep 16, 2013 in Empathy, Featured

Let’s Start Imperfectly or We’ll Never Start

Many of you will have seen an article on the front page of the print edition of the New York Times this morning. Here is the online version of the story by Lydia Polgreen, Trading Privilege for Privation, Family Hits a Nation’s Nerve.

It’s about a young white family’s choice to spend a month in a shack living in solidarity with black South Africans, next door to their own part-time housekeeper. This “experiment in radical empathy” took them far from the relatively close, gated community that is their usual home in Pretoria, South Africa. To the horror of their own parents, they took along their children, 4 and 2. I loved this quote: “‘People might say it is irresponsible to bring children,’ Mr. Hewitt [the husband] said. ‘But I would rather say it is irresponsible to raise children in this country who can’t cross boundaries.’”

The article delineates the debate that is raging over whether this is a sensationalist stunt or a valuable exercise in empathy. I vote for the latter; how about you?

The couple, Ena and Julian Hewitt, admitted that their motives were to change themselves. How do any of us change except by cognitive dissonance or disruption? Inertia keeps us in our ruts, seeing the same people, thinking the same way… until something propels us out of those pathways into new possibilities. The Hewitts simply designed their own, not insignificant, disruption. Which is more than most of us willingly sign up for.  (more…)

Let’s Get A Reality Check!

Posted by on Sep 4, 2013 in Cary Umhau, Featured, Reality Check

Let’s Get A Reality Check!

Last night some friends and I were talking about how we all share images of ourselves on social media as if our lives were perfect. We curate impressions. We manage what we share.

When I recently posted a Facebook cover photo of myself on a swing, one friend commented, “You have such a fun life.” I wanted to rip the picture down. I felt disingenuous… because obviously I’d posted the picture to telegraph my fun quotient, my free spirit… but I was self-aware even on the swing when I saw my friend snap the photo. I realized I wanted to be seen that way. I had created a photo opp more than I had simply chosen to jump on the swing and go.

And I was caught when I saw the “You have such a fun life” comment. Because although I do have a fun life in many ways, and I definitely do have many/most elements of a very good life, and my problems are all First World problems (“Where should I go on vacation?” “Do I have time to run by Whole Foods?”)… well that’s not the whole picture. I’m often angsty, intense, or interpreting things wrong and spending too long in a people-pleasing zone. I’m often dragging around with menopausal symptoms. I’m often listening to broken records (lies) in my head telling me I’m not enough, I’m not good enough. And I don’t always feel fun.

So of course we manage what we share; I sure do. No one wants to be the poster child for a broken, messy life. No one wants to be the person who Instagrams a breakfast plate that tells the truth: that we had Eggo waffles for breakfast, Eggos with “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” drizzled (or glopped) on top — and that we ate that in the car while yelling at our spouse. (more…)