By Paul Jackson
After the pandemic shutdown, I took a walk most days near Sligo Creek Park in Silver Spring, Maryland. In front of a bridge crossing the creek, I could see a quote on the pavement from the @chalkladies,
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”
The line is from Mary Oliver’s poem “Evidence” and was an idea that helped me find my way into a more and more newly imagined reality.
My own experiences pale in comparison to those of so many people I know (and don’t know) who experienced the deaths of people they loved, Zoom funerals, the disruption of their way to make a living, or a descent into poverty, and who nonetheless demonstrated unbelievable instances of strength and kindness – to me and to others.
Right before the pandemic, I experienced the loss of one of my most significant relationships and, during the pandemic, the beginning of a new one. With this loss, the isolation forced by the shutdown, and the overall zeitgeist I found myself better able to relate to the emotions of others – sometimes even those of strangers – in a way I never had before. Sometimes it was in a way that could feel overwhelming. I also found myself almost completely unable to put my thoughts onto paper, something that had sustained me previously when I needed to find guidance and direction.
There are some experiences that stick out from this past year that I plan to focus on going forward. Early on, a friend talked about how elderly people would be particularly isolated during the pandemic and he responded by organizing a note-writing project. I turned to the internet and found Covia, an organization that matched me up with Ron, a blind senior citizen. We have talked together since April of last year almost every Wednesday evening from 6 to 7. He has become a close friend and someone I would consult before making important decisions. What a great unexpected connection this has been.
Many years ago, and for many years, I participated in my friend Rick’s Science and Religion discussion group every second Sunday of the month. I learned so much in those discussions, but the thing I liked most was Rick’s passion – he had a calling to do this. His enthusiasm, engagement, and sense of humor kept me involved even when the subject matter was way over my head. At some point, Rick had to discontinue this discussion group, in part because of the challenges of getting a group a people together in our traffic-clogged city. Over the next several years, I really felt something was missing. Then, after the pandemic forced me to use Zoom to interact with people, I realized that this technology removes the problem of managing traffic. I restarted the Science and Religion group with Rick and we meet more than once a month. There have been amazing discussions about time, space, consciousness, God, evil, and, my new favorite philosopher/thinker, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his idea that we are all one and, through evolution, we are headed toward the Omega Point. Having these people and these ideas back in my life has been soul-enriching.
In 2019, after a 20+ year career in finance/accounting, I retired, took a few months off, and started a second career as a job coach, first working with persons with mental illness, then with persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). After learning about the barriers to employment for persons with IDD, and the problems caused by our system of disability insurance and benefits, I realized that the best thing I could offer was in the area of entrepreneurship and self-employment. My first client, Michelle, wanted to start a bakery. I found a wonderful organization, Crossroads Community Connection that offered a food entrepreneurship program. Along with my co-worker Timeka, Michelle and I participated in this program and took part in the Crossroads Farmers Market in October and November 2020. The program was run by Jennifer, who had an amazing ability to create a community of food entrepreneurs who quickly pivoted from meet in person training to the new reality of Zoom. Jennifer would finish many of the on-line sessions with an inspirational song from YouTube, something I quickly adopted for almost every virtual meeting I have hosted in the past year.
The end of that long relationship created the possibility for a new relationship that has opened up a whole universe of meaning for me. This past Easter also reaffirmed for me in the most profound sense, that with loss comes the potential for rebirth and renewal.
From my perspective, we (the voters in the United States) faced an existential choice last November and the months that followed. With the political divisions that continue and deepen, I imagine a new way of talking together. I think there are necessary conversations for our country about who we collectively want to be and where we are headed in the long arc of our history.
Has the pandemic opened the possibility for unimagined connections with each other, with the creator and with the past, present and future? Yes, I think so and will keep room in my heart and my actions for it. So, here’s what I want to focus on going forward in 2021:
Continuing to pursue meaningful human connections and never ever taking my closest relationships for granted. The possibilities to realize purpose and meaning in and from our relationships are endless.
Recognizing that most of us are privileged beyond belief – akin to being lottery ticket winners – I challenge myself and you, to spend some time learning and educating ourselves about the things we have built into our structures that contribute to economic, racial, sexual, and other forms of discrimination. These include our tax system, voting systems, election processes, banking, investment, marketing/advertising, entertainment, and everything that defines us as social creatures.
With our divided politics and increased retreat into social/political/economic bubbles, let’s use the model of connecting two people who might have different political views and see if we can connect and break the bubbles that have been constructed to separate us. I’ve tried to get this started with: https://www.facebook.com/BubblebustersUSA
Want to learn more or join me? Let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll never forget the kindnesses of my family, my wonderful daughters, friends, several random strangers, and the @chalkladies for spreading hope, a helping hand, and promise for the future.
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Paul Jackson is an avid follower of WINN and he has organized two collaborative writing initiatives that have been published as books – WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED SO FAR and A MOMENT IN PARADISE: Collaborative Thoughts on Empathy.
You can read his earlier post: https://winnpost.org/2019/01/25/what-have-we-learned-so-far/