To know and be known

Reflecting on my week, there is a natural pause, a quiet honoring of the stories I heard and the people I sat with. The aches, pains and longings, the hurt, confusion and loss… The joys, the celebrations, the gratitude, the tears. There are moments I am overcome with my own emotions and questions around how to be present in a way that encompasses compassion, respect, and gratitude that I am privy to these stories and wisdom that would allow me to provide insight.

There are honest and raw moments of grief. As my heart aches on others behalf, and honestly, how could it not? The human experience is one of struggle. There is beauty of course, amidst the chaos and rubble, there is sheer joy and moments of happiness… yet alongside that, there is often a counterpart of fear, worry, sadness, anger, doubt- and at times, we can become weighed down, weary and even frozen.

As I walk into and alongside more and more stories, I become more fully aware of our connectedness as human beings. How powerfully similar we all are in our need for connection, to be known, to know, to share our story with another person who cares- unconditionally and without judgement. We are so desperate for it, we lose our mind without it. We spiral into anxiety, worry, fear. We plummet into doubt, even despair. We seek fillers, sometimes in desperation we are willing to fill that gaping hole with literally anything.

We grapple. We are uncertain of many things and constantly seek insight, validation, confirmation, signs that we are not alone, that someone else feels like this too, and that someone else gets it. I believe that we really come to know ourselves in the presence of others. We see ourselves, we explore who we are in our multi-faceted parts, in the company of others who are doing the same. Sometimes we like what we see, other times we do not and are forced to dig deep and explore our own strengths and weaknesses. There is inherent need for time to ones self, to pause, to be still, to reflect, to check in, to listen to our own voice and not get caught up in all the other voices. However that does not change the reality that we grow, and learn and explore and even heal in community. But we really struggle to accept this.

We both love and hate the need to connect with someone else. When we feel a deep sense of connection and things are going well in relationships, we crave them, we rest in them, we believe in their significance. However when a connection has been broken, lost, destroyed, we become aggressively defensive of our own self and our desire to be alone and not allow anyone else in or near. It is primal to protect ones self. It is how we survive. However I also believe that is can be how we die. We can isolate so well, insulating ourselves from hurt and others, that we can suffocate in silence.

We grieve. Individually. Collectively. Sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs or families or even communities. And eventually it passes, the acute grief that is. But there is residual grief and questions and longings… that we do not know what to do with, so we set aside, and we move on. We keep getting up, going to work, doing our thing, all the while, there is a nagging sense of desire. A desire to share our journey with someone who cares enough to listen, to notice and hold a space for us, to love us.

Over the past couple of weeks I made it a point to slow down, to notice the people around me, to make eye contact and not be so hurried and focused on my task or my multi-tasks, that I don’t see others. It has been a powerful experiment for me, as I look into the eyes of gas attendants, waitresses and waiters, baristas, receptionists, even those I walk past. I have seen people who are hungry for interaction, for connection. I have exchanged more smiles, more conversations and a more genuine sense of presence for the world around me, and I have been amazed.  I have seen peoples faces light up with surprise. I have heard a snippet of their day or their job duties and gotten a sense of their world, and I have had respect for them. What I have seen is people who long to be seen and who shine when they are.

We are so distracted, busy, hurried and absent minded so much of the time, we are missing out! We are missing out on seeing people around us and realizing we’re not alone. We are missing out on opportunities to share in our journeys. We are missing out on brightening someones day by looking into their eyes, by seeing them! We are missing out on a chance to show another person value, by validating their presence next to us or right in front of us. And we are missing out on giving ourselves the gift of being present where we are. Which is a powerful gift, in a world where we are often pulled in multiple directions by multiple needs/responsibilities and are often overstimulated with noise and to dos… We need to pause, slow down, see and be seen. Its not really optional. We need each other.

 

 

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The Power of Community

I spent a large portion of my day today grieving and processing the loss of a mentor and friend. In my own grief and sadness I could not help but watch the storm of messages being written on the walls of family members and the continual updates in news feeds about this man, and the impact he had on so many individual lives and the legacy he has left behind…. Hundreds of messages sent to his wife, words of encouragement and support and shared grief. His son made a post with a tribute to his dad part way through today, and over 270 likes and close to a hundred comments were displayed in response. This a community that bans together, shares in the joys and the sorrows. They show up. They make phone calls, mail cards, bring food and meals, send flowers and offer their hands anywhere they are needed. This is a community I have been a part of for the majority of my life and have taken for granted. 

Today as I watched the support stream in from every angle possible for this family, I was awestruck. While reaching out to my own set of connections and friends to share this painful moment with, I could not help but feel a sense of gratitude for community and all that it provides. The ability to know that someone else is there and they know what you’re going through and they want to be there for you. Powerful and life altering.

I have watched families go through this sort of tragedy countless times, and it is powerful to step back and see what a community can do for a family or individual, to rally around them and share in their journey. What I have witnessed is an enormous amount of strength and courage and an incredible resilience that rises up in these families and individuals that are surrounded by support systems, and not left to process life’s journey on their own. There is a shared space that we experience when we are aware that we are not alone, that someone cares, that somewhat has witnessed the unfolding of our day. 

In her 2004 movie “Shall We Dance”, Susan Sarandon has a scene where she describes why people marry;

”We need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day.  You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”

This is one of the most powerful descriptions that I have ever heard regarding the real reason for marriage or commitment. A community can be each and every one of these things. Whether large or small, new or old, religious or professional, a neighborhood or organization. A group of people that join together in one way or another and end up forming a connection, a bond. We congregate together in order to share our lives, to bare witness to others lives and support and share in them, to find encouragement and care and concern, to seek wisdom and learn from one another. We are social beings, made to connect with one another, and to co-create meaning as we live our lives. 

One of the greatest tragedies that I see is when someone isn’t sharing their life with someone else. This does not need to be a marriage or family I’m talking about someone who isn’t connected, and doesn’t have others in their immediate world who bare witness to their life. We are not beings that function best or even well in isolation or solidarity.  We are social. We are fragile. We are vulnerable. We need an other in our world, to make it real, to bring it meaning, to simply survive. 

We attach to the person who is there for us most, and we attach securely when that person is consistent and reliable and unconditional in their care-concern. When attachment needs go unmet, illness and disease show up, they begin to infiltrate our minds and our bodies and wrecking havoc. 

The beautiful reality is that attachment begins between two individuals and has the ability to grow and expound from there. The growth of a community, the connection of a group of individuals is not instant and does not happen overnight. It happens in the mundane everyday realities of each of our lives. As we reach out, as we open up, as we allow others to share in our journey, we are invited in and gifted with the opportunity to share in theirs. To give and take, to grow and share, to expand. It starts simply, it happens slowly, but these encounters-exchanges of words or actions begin to build bridges of connection. They begin to foster friendship. And one day you realize that you are surrounded by people who know you and care about you and for whom you would do pretty much anything for.

You find that you are a part of a community, of a whole, and you are a small part, but a necessary part that allows the whole to exist. You find that you are more resilient than you ever imagined, that you are stronger than you ever thought possible and you are not alone.

Tonight I am challenging us to connect. I am challenging each and every one of us to connect in some small or big way. To reach out, to get involved, to share, to give, to open, to receive and to engage in the building of a community, even if that community begins with two.