It has been months since I’ve written a blog post. Reflecting on my “writer’s block”, I realized the winter months delivered much unexpected trauma no thanks to the former Commander-in-Chief. Further distracted by my anger over the mounting COVID cases and deaths due to the selfish travels of indifferent Americans and the swift onset of mass shootings as spring welcomed eased restrictions, these persistent upheavals gave rise to an ambivalence about my own purpose in the world.
It’s been difficult getting inspired to write as I’m plagued by the questions of “Why am I doing this?” , “What is it all for?” I can’t seem to remain grounded in my identity as a writer because I know it requires a certain focused resistance to the turbulence of the outside world, and an acute sensitivity to it at the same time. It calls for an internal discipline that pushes against the excuses I often narrate to myself on any given day–a commitment to a calling that tests and nags me all at once.
Then there is the looming expectation of success. To be a writer–an artist–is to constantly seek the external validation that gives our work legitimacy. Any attempt to be published catapults writers into this strange vicious circle of being told that we will be published when we have a a platform of readers, but then wondering how do we build a platform of readers if we are never published? The modern devices of social media force us to be “branded”–pushing our words into contrived notions of who we should be in order to make a pitch. Not very inspiring.
So, what brought me back to the page?
It was the simplest of statements from a cherished friend from my past.
“You never get up from writing and say, well that was a waste of time.”
In that instant, I felt both convicted and seen. His words took my breath away.
This conversation with this particular friend, Andrew, was probably one of the great surprises of the Zoom call life that has become commonplace in our pandemic reality. I have had several reconnections with former colleagues, classmates, and members of other tribes over the past year. Commiserating over the weight and incredulity of the pandemic, many of those calls were borne from a subtle desperation in such trying times, grasping for a moment to step “outside” of the walls that were locking us all in.
The two hours I spent zooming with Andrew landed markedly different. While witnessing a year and a half of distance from those we love the most, I often worried that post-pandemic, we humans wouldn’t learn the lessons and would resume our blind pursuit of things, power, titles, and attention, with little to no reverence for what was lost this past year. I have yet to hand down a verdict on how we’re doing–the outlook is mixed–but I am grateful for those 120 minutes that were a beautiful reminder of the inspired nature and magic of human connection no matter distance or time.
Let me set the stage. Andrew and I first met in 7th grade at Frelinghuysen Middle School. Probably an unlikely pair to share a bond, we managed to suffer our way through years of French classes together into high school, although I think I abandoned him in AP French Lit our senior year. Why unlikely? If we were cast in a John Hughes flick of our era, Andrew would be the quintessential leading man–tall, good-looking, athletic, smart, and a ridiculously nice guy–a Molly Ringwald crush, for sure.
I, on the other hand, would be the goofy, theatre and chorus nerd with little to no lines, chatting in the background of some cafeteria scene. I was the girl who accidently caught her hair on fire in chemistry class. I was awkwardly all over the place before being awkward was a thing. I could have been Issa Rae’s role model.
Fast forward about 32 years since our last conversation and there we were face to face on Zoom. The details of how we arrived at that moment are probably less important–Facebook friends, career stuff, yada, yada, yada. As we peeled back the layers of our lives, we ended at a place of sincere vulnerability, both contemplating our identities as writers-mine, new and unformed, his, disciplined and yet a bit more measured.
But it wasn’t just the surprise of a common bond of writing that touched me. It was this unspoken agreement to hold space organically and authentically for whatever came up. Perhaps that could be credited to the crazy mix of our history as Morristown Gen Xers, our careers as consultant and coach, and the wear and tear of a global pandemic, social unrest, and an attempted coup. Certainly, our collective need for thoughtful and healing human connection cannot be understated. By whatever means it evolved, it was just refreshing to not have any airs, defenses, or postures that too often define human interactions in this day and age.
When I got off the call, not only did I finally feel a spark to write again, but I allowed myself a moment of playful nostalgia about my friendship with Andrew. The summer after our 8th grade year, we were both part of a motley crew of 13 middle school students on a whirlwind two-week tour around Europe. Hours spent on our own full-size charter bus, we galivanted through Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and France with just two chaperones, often left to our own devices between sightseeing and meals. It’s a wonder we all survived that adventure.
In typical adolescent fashion, the girls on the trip tended to hang with the girls, the boys with the boys, simply maintaining the natural order of things. But, at one point, my inner tomboy grew weary of all that girl energy and I parked myself in a seat on the bus next to Andrew for a chat. I don’t recall whether it was by invitation or intrusion, but I do remember just being able to relax, bantering about whatever teenage concerns were on deck at the moment.
Melding my reflections about our middle-aged reconnection with the memories of the carefree leisure of our youth, it’s so easy to see that there really is nothing more meaningful than being fully present to someone else’s humanity.
And to do so is a choice.
Of course, my deduction is neither profound nor unique, but how many of us can honestly say that we live in this space, whether with long lost friends or our nearest and dearest? What does it mean and what does it take to consciously create safe spaces of vulnerability for and with others? I could certainly do better, especially with those who love me the most. It’s helpful to have this reminder as my reunion with my mother and son draws closer.
Collectively, we’re not well trained for this. If we were, it would be impossible to conceive of separating children from their families, refusing to comply to basic safety measures that would protect the health and lives of others, or constructing laws and systems that persistently deny the rights and humanity of others. We take something that should be so natural and gentle–our capacity to connect–and we distort it to what end?
The isolation and loss from the pandemic have been unmatched in their brutality on our psyches and I keep hoping that we will come back kinder and more conscious to our genuine need for each other. Setting aside the egoic tendencies to dominate or best one another so that we can be of service to the moment.
I never would have imagined that 30+ years of time and distance from a school friend would deliver one of the most fulfilling conversations of the year. But, there we were.
And here we all are, beckoned to the highest calling of merely being present to and for one another.