TRP Interview: Revealing Cynthia Rosengard

When I think of Cynthia I tend to want to place my hands over my heart.  She came across our project  through one of her friends and felt drawn to do it and I'm ever so grateful that she did.  The project is the ultimate experience of giving and receiving. As a team producing the workshop, we get just as much, if not more from the session as our participants do.  While none of our shoots have been unforgettable, Cynthia's time with us had a significant impact on me. Many times, our participants mirror our own challenges back to ourselves as well as our own beautiful vulnerability.  Her struggle to come to terms with a difficult life-shift was still raw and painful, and revealing it during the shoot represented a moment of complete surrender that had not been available to her until that moment. Once we gave it air to breathe and the space to be known,  it disappeared.  Who showed up then, was the essence of joy and self-acceptance - see if you can see the moment of shift.  

TRP: Who are you today?

Today, I am the possibility of…vulnerability, intimacy, love, light, and making a difference.  I am a woman, a mother, a counselor, a child of God, a mentor, a friend, a teacher, a leader, a lover, a life-long-learner of life’s lessons, a compassionate confidante, a flawed human being, a daughter, and a sister.

TRP: What are the biggest challenges that have faced you as a woman?

I don’t know if these are challenges I would have faced if I wasn’t a woman, but one of the biggest challenges that I have faced is finding my voice and the courage to use it.  Another challenge has been to allow myself to truly be seen and heard and taken seriously by those around me, and to really create and own my story and be unapologetic about it. These might be universal “human” challenges, but perhaps they are tied to my gender…?

TRP: What are some of the issues that you think are important to explore as it relates to being a woman?

I believe that we have more choices and opportunities than in earlier time periods.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  When I was getting married and my husband-to-be wanted me to change my last name, I chafed at the idea…had never imagined that I would even consider it.  Ultimately, I made the compromise to change my name legally/socially, but keep my maiden name for professional purposes.  It never sat well with me and I was relieved to rid myself of his name when we divorced.  All that said, there were times when I thought, “wasn’t life simpler in the 1950s, when we didn’t have so many choices/decisions to make?” In all seriousness, I wouldn’t go back to that “simpler” time or trade in the choices/opportunities that I have now, but I do think we need to examine how all of this has changed our relationships with one another (men and women) and how we can go about co-creating how these relationships and roles will be divided up in the future.  I think a lot about how relationships work (or don’t) and how we are teaching (or not) our children about how to “do” relationships.  I believe that all of these are issues that face humans(not only women).

TRP: What makes your heart ache?

On a global level, my heart aches over injustice, violence, intolerance, all of the many –isms, poverty, war, inequality…on a personal level, my heart aches when I am feeling lonely.

TRP: What frightens you most?

I feel like so much of my life has been directed by my fears rather than by my hopes.  In the past, I would have told you that being alone frightens me…losing an important relationship frightens me…getting very sick frightens me…losing my home or my health insurance coverage frightens me…having someone who said that they would love me forever just disappear one day frightens me.  Only all of those things have happened in my life and, guess what, I am still standing.  At this point, I would say that having something tragic happen to either of my children frightens me…or having either one of them pattern their future relationships after my marriage frightens me.  At the end of the day, the worst things can come to pass and we have a choice about how we will respond to them.

TRP: What do you deeply love? (This can be ANYTHING or ANYONE or ANY PLACE…)

I deeply love my children.  I was ambivalent about becoming a parent…was not one of those people who felt that having children was necessary for me to lead a happy and fulfilling life.  My children are my greatest teachers and spiritual guides.  They have taught me the lessons of patience, the importance of having a good sense of humor, and they have and continue to teach me about how to love big.  They keep me humble and they keep me plugged in to all things pop-culture.  In return, I get to be zany, funny, carefree, and child-like with them in ways that few relationships have afforded me. And, like many of us, I get to give them what I didn’t get from my own parents…which is very healing for me.

TRP: What is your “Life Purpose?”

I believe that my life’s purpose is to love others without conditions.  To spread light and compassion and love as far and wide as possible (without limits).

TRP: How do you keep yourself inspired by life?

I am fortunate to have meaningful pursuits both during work hours and non-work hours.  I find myself constantly inspired by the stories and challenges faced by the clients who I have the good fortune to work with.  I have built my practice around people who are actively managing transitions in their lives – whether that be starting/ending school, starting/ending relationships, starting/ending careers/jobs, or undergoing gender-confirmation transitions.  I consider it a gift to be a part of their journeys.
When I am not at work, I am a single-parent (see earlier information on my children, who inspire me daily) and very active at my church.  I have recently transitioned from a leader in the Religious Education aspect of our ministry to take on the position of President-Elect of our church.  The coming year will see us saying good-bye to our minister and preparing for a period of interim ministry and selecting the next settled minister.  I am inspired to lead our community through an exciting process of examination and development of what the next chapter of our church story will be.

TRP: Have you ever hit rock bottom? Please share about it if you are willing.

Ending my marriage was probably one of the most wrenching times in my life, but I wouldn’t count it as my “hitting rock bottom.” I felt untethered by my divorce, but I knew that leaving that relationship and role was necessary for my growth and for finding and using my own voice.  “Hitting rock bottom” came in the form of losing a more recent relationship with a man who I believe to be my soul mate…my bashert (the Hebrew word for the person who was chosen for me by God). We reconnected at the time that my marriage was falling apart, though we’d met in college and known one another from the beginning of time.  Too long a story to go into, but his story includes a turning away from what was meant to be and leaving me.   We haven’t spoken in a year and right after our break, I felt very depressed and couldn’t really see a point in going on. I felt lost without him and without his love.

TRP: What did it teach you?

I kind of feel like it is still teaching me, but some of what I’ve learned is that I truly can lose everything and still be here…which means that I haven’t fulfilled my life purpose yet.   In my stronger moments, I feel like God made me to love him unconditionally, but that I haven’t met the someone who God made to love me unconditionally yet, or I have, but haven’t realized it yet.

TRP: Is there anything in particular that made you feel like being part of the Revelation Project was important to your life right now?

I have had my eye on TRP for the past few years.  I’ve always looked forward to each new sister’s Revelation and, in the back of my mind I thought, “some day, I will have the guts to do that.”  Since the ending of my relationship, I’ve decided that it is important for me to say “yes” to things that make me uncomfortable or scared.  TRP kind of falls into that category.  I participated in Reveal365, which gave me a taste of what it might be like to let others see me and explore within a supportive and encouraging community of women.  My ex-husband got married at the end of July, so I decided that I would schedule my photo-shoot the Friday before his wedding as a way of celebrating myself.
About the shoot:

TRP: What did you think about the approach of the upcoming photo shoot (before you got there) and what were your expectations?

I really liked that I had an opportunity to speak with Andrea before getting going with the pre-shoot interview and preparing myself for what to expect.  I think that was really helpful in allowing me to picture it (pun totally intended).  One of the things that I had totally gotten myself twisted up about is that I am not a clothes-horse and pulling together clothes that I like and think I look good in was challenging and difficult for me.  Come to find out that, of the several outfits (including jewelry and shoes) that I brought with me, I only ended up wearing a string of pearls and one pair of shoes…I don’t think that I was really prepared for that…it would have been less stressful to just know that I was going to be dressed by the TRP team and not bothered to waste my time/energy on pulling together clothes.  I am sure that there is some lesson in here for me that will unfold as I consider it more. I loved spending time with the pre-shoot interview and thinking about my answers to the provocative questions.  They set the frame for what was to come and allowed me to tune in with how I was feeling and what felt like blocks/barriers to me.  I knew that I would feel uncomfortable being attended to and the center of everything and would want to deflect…sure enough, I tried my best, but you all wouldn’t let me get away with anything.   I also knew that there was going to be a moment (or moments) when I would feel uncomfortable and not know what to do.

TRP: How did you feel during the shoot, and was there anything in particular that made you feel more or less relaxed and open to the process?

I felt a variety of things during the shoot.  First, I felt incredibly welcomed and cared for by folks who I feel as though I have known for a lifetime (and beyond), but hadn’t spent a tremendous amount of time with before.  There was a TON of construction going on in and around the cite for the shoot and, at points on my journey there, I wondered if I was going to be able to make it at all.  Again, I thought about what lesson there was for me to learn in that challenge.   I so appreciated the quiet meditative time at the beginning/end of the shoot – and picking out the words that each of us selected “from the box.” I felt nervous/excited when one of my words was “The Wild Woman.”  At times, I felt a desire to be lead and told what to do and how to move myself (a desire to be held and taken care of without having to do anything myself) – even as I knew that I had permission to move and be as I wanted. As we got into the rhythm of the shoot, I felt a bit more at ease, but late into our second outfit/set-up, Kim could sense that I wasn’t giving it my all.  I allowed Andrea to get right in my face, and I cracked open.  It was what I’d feared and what I’d known kind of had to happen and it felt confusing and wonderful.  Letting go like that was freeing.

TRP: Use three words to describe the way you felt before we shot:

Curious. Anxious. Hopeful.

TRP:  Three words for after:

Spent. Energized. Pensive.

TRP: Three words for when you saw the results:

Humbled. Blown-Away. Seen

TRP: After you left, but before you saw the results, what were the thoughts and feelings you were having about your experience? What were some of the things you thought about on the drive home?

Thoughts on the ride home were mostly about how to let the experience sink in.  I cried for a good portion of the first 15 minutes or so…it felt like such a release to be able to break down in front of you amazing ladies and it allowed me to tap into the deep well of strong feelings that permeated the past year, the significance of the coming weekend (my ex-husband was getting married the next day), and this place that I find myself in on my life’s journey.  I thought I was going to be exhausted, but had a burst of energy when I got home and ran some errands and did some house-cleaning before I completely crashed.
Between the shoot and when the results were revealed, I worried that I wasn’t going to like how the pictures turned out.  I was concerned that it wouldn’t look like me or that I would look fat, old, unattractive…all of those awful things that I say to myself when I am feeling less-than.  I started to worry about how others would see the whole endeavor…as self-indulgent or sad or…again, awful stories that I tell myself.  I am sure that most of them were related to what was happening that weekend and how I was feeling and have been feeling – alone and lonely.

TRP: When you saw the results what was your first reaction and impression?

I remember checking my phone between clients the week after the photo shoot and being completely floored that the pictures had already come out.  I had been told 2 – 3 weeks and that was what I was expecting.  My first reaction was to kind of panic and think… “there is no going back now!” When I saw the pictures, I was completely and utterly blown away by how they looked.  The pictures captured my essence, my light…ME.

TRP: What was some of the feedback you received from those who saw your photographs?

People used words like “stunning,” “gorgeous,” and “beautiful.” I also liked hearing that people saw me was bold, brave, and fierce.  I think someone even used the words “bad-ass” to describe the picture of me on the Vespa.  I found myself crying when reading the feedback from people who indicated that they could see the size of my heart or the light of my soul in the pictures.  Some of those comments came from people who I don’t know as well, so it really meant a lot to me.

My daughter had an interesting reaction to seeing the pictures…she laughed and said that she thought the whole thing was ridiculous.  Later, when I asked her for more of a reaction, she said that I didn’t look like her Mom…that those pictures weren’t the way that she sees me.  I get, from her 11-year-old perspective, why my stepping out in this way would feel uncomfortable and even a little bit embarrassing. Admittedly, her laughter stung a little bit, but I’ve put it in perspective now and feel much better about it.

TRP: How did the feedback make you feel?

Almost all of the feedback that I received was overwhelmingly positive and supportive and amazing and made me feel like a princess and a goddess and an angel all wrapped into one package! This is the feedback that I’ve tried to soak up and inhabit and live.  The few less-than-positive and/or silent reactions to the photos have hurt a bit, but the volume of positivity has way outweighed anything else.

TRP: Did you learn anything new about yourself from the experience?

The thing that surprised me about myself is that, while I was fine with putting the pictures out there to my Facebook friends, I had a lot of discomfort in sharing the pictures with my family-of-origin.  Perhaps it is because I am not used to being “seen” by them or known by them that it almost felt too personal and too scary to show them the pictures.  It wasn’t until weeks later, when they had seen some of them through other friends/family who are on Facebook (none of my immediate family-of-origin – parents, siblings are on Facebook) and asked for me to send them to them, that I finally sent them via email.  I guess, not surprisingly, none of them has responded with any feedback about the pictures or questions about the larger experience.

TRP: Do you feel empowered, and if so, what parts of your TRP experience were empowering?

I felt hugely empowered by the experience…I feel as though it freed me up in so many ways.  Other than my family-of-origin, I have had so many people reach out to me to talk about the experience and to give me praise for being courageous, brave, and beautiful (inside and out).  I believe that it has enabled me to do and say so many things that previously felt scary to me.  It has also allowed me to see myself as others experience me…the feedback has been like a mirror – showing me my strength, my happiness, my freedom, and my vulnerability.

TRP: Since the shoot happened, what is the lasting impact of your experience? Has it altered the way you view yourself and the way you interact in your relationships?

I think that the lasting impact of my experience will continue to unfold and I loved speaking with Andrea more about what to expect and how my revelation can shape my life, moving forward.  I definitely feel as though the experience has given me permission to take more risks in my life and relationships, to say my truth/use my voice, and to revise my story and behave in allow me to own that new story.  I feel lighter, happier, and more at peace.  I am hopeful that it will also clear the way for me to make more connections, form more friendships, and hopefully allow someone amazing into my life.

TRP: Do you think it’s relevant for other women, and if so, why?

So many women friends have already asked me about the experience and are interested to know more.  Similar to the way that I felt when I saw Jackie Hennessey's pictures a few years ago, I believe that many women want to feel seen and heard and valued.  I am not sure that this path is right for everyone, but for those who are interested in going deeper, understanding at a higher level, and raising the vibrations of their lives, I believe that this experience is highly relevant.

TRP: How will you use the photos moving forward; professionally, personally, as gifts?

I have already used the photos in professional contexts (e.g., my practice website and my university research profile) and have given a few out as gifts to close friends who’ve asked for one.  I imagine that they will mostly be for me…to keep reminding myself that I am the possibility of vulnerability, beauty, grace, love, light, and making a difference.

TRP: Which photo was your favorite, and why?

I love so many of them that it is hard to choose just one.  The one where I am looking right into the camera is so powerful and amazing.  I’ve always felt that my eyes were one of my best features and that one really captures the fire in my soul.  The one where I am laughing and holding up a piece of my hair is so very much ME and shows of my big-hearted smile/laugh.  The one where I am driving the Vespa is so playful and free.  I also really love the black and white one where I am clasping my hands together and looking up and off to the side is just delightful.  I really could go on and on…they are ALL my favorite!

TRP: What is your favorite song today, and why?


These days, I find myself listening to Sleeping At Last’s “Watermark” (off of the mixed CD that Monica made for me this winter).  It has a haunting lyric and captures where I am at these days.

Here are the lyrics:

You were carved out of the sea

Watermarked by your ancestry

In a tug of war between the tide and me

What felt like loss was a victory

Cause you were swept ashore like bottles holding prayers
You were carved out of the earth

Safe and sound in your second birth

Gravity has tied your ankle to the shore

As a lighthouse tamed the endless ocean war
Against the calming light our silhouettes are changing shape

The stories you've been told have made you brave
Such inheritance was formed within the sand

Like the shells you gather in the safety of your hands

Dive in with your eyes closed

For the life you were born to claim

And the water will be paralyzed

By the courage you contain

And the flutter of your earnest heart

It will fill the silent seas

And all will be restored in your memory

Another song that speaks to my desire to make a difference and be remembered is Beyonce’s

“I Was Here.”   Here are the lyrics:

I wanna leave my footprints on the sands of time
Know there was something that, meant something that I left behind
When I leave this world, I'll leave no regrets
Leave something to remember, so they won't forget
I was here
I lived, I loved
I was here
I did, I've done everything that I wanted
And it was more than I thought it would be
I will leave my mark so everyone will know
I was here
I want to say I lived each day, until I died
And know that I meant something in, somebody's life
The hearts I have touched, will be the proof that I leave
That I made a difference, and this world will see
I was here
I lived, I loved
I was here
I did, I've done everything that I wanted
And it was more than I thought it would be
I will leave my mark so everyone will know
I was here
I lived, I loved
I was here
I did, I've done everything that I wanted
And it was more than I thought it would be
I will leave my mark so everyone will know
I was here
I just want them to know
That I gave my all, did my best
Brought someone some happiness

Left this world a little better just because
I was here
I was here
I lived, I loved
I was here
I did, I've done everything that I wanted
And it was more than I thought it would be
I wanna leave my mark so everyone will know
I was here
I lived (I lived), I loved
I was here
I did (I did), I've done
I was here
I lived (I lived), I loved (I loved)
I was here (oh)
I did, I've done
I was here.

TRP: How would you sum up your TRP experience in one sentence?
Do what you are afraid to do…you won’t regret it!