Juneteenth

Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

I have to admit, I didn’t know about this part of history until I was an adult. Like, in the last five years. Same goes for the Tulsa Race Massacre, which I had to see dramatized in Watchmen in order for it to hit home. I’m embarrassed about that.

It feels weird wishing others to be happy on this day. Especially to those whose enslaved ancestors suffered firsthand. While it is a celebration of freedom, so much oppression and pain are connected to that. But I do hope Black people will be able to find happiness.

On days surrounding today and the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, resources for learning about Black History flood my social media. I’m so very grateful for that. I use those resources throughout the year to find ways to take real action, to turn abstractions and intellectual exercise into practice and heart for my fellow human beings. I’m learning not to be performative. I’m learning to listen better to know better, so that I can do better.

It’s still a work in progress. I hope we all can help each other.

Ten Years Since Sénégal

I was emailing a friend whose birthday is today. And I know that only because it’s two days before mine. And I wouldn’t have known this except I became friends with him and his wife while studying abroad in Sénégal.

Ten years ago.

This occurred to me today, and so I texted a different classmate from the study abroad. This classmate remarked that we were babies then. Maybe she was; I wasn’t so much. I was 34 when we started the trip, and I turned 35 while in our fourth week. I think I’m about nine years older than the married couple who befriended me. Not like it’s a contest. But I tried hard not to feel self-conscious about my age at the time.

It was such an eye-opening experience. Although I struggled with the language, I picked up fragments of comprehension about slavery and colonialism. My French did improve over time, but wow, I hadn’t been challenged like that in a very, very long time.

I wasn’t sure if these costumes are just for show or are actually part of the culture.

It was good to walk among people of a different religion, too. There were rules to follow while visiting mosques. We heard the calls for prayer fives times every day. Y’all, America can be wonderful, but it isn’t the best all the time. Or even close to perfect.

What a beautiful country. It’s hard to believe that whole experience was 10 years ago. I’m grateful I went; going made me a more compassionate, open-minded person. I made lifelong friends. This part of the path opened up the way to where I am now. Which is where I want to be.

My Plan for Returning to Society

Isolating from people for over a year has been quite an experience. I’m not an extrovert by any means, but for the most part isolation has been voluntary, not mandatory. In the past, I’ve gone to parties because I’ve psyched myself up to go. I would have a fun time, but then I’d home, unwind for about an hour, then sleep unbelievably well.

But I do love people. I especially love being around people I consider close friends and family. That’s not saying I don’t like making friends, but that process is navigating new territory. Some people are easier to befriend than others. I generally have a very accommodating personality. I observe body language and facial expressions and tone; I listen and can often meet a person at their comfort level or on common ground. One of my greatest contributions to humanity is getting people to open up, to have people be ok with vulnerability. And have them feel connected to others, even in ways that seem fleeting or insignificant. Those ways have impact.

When I lived in New York, the deep desire to connect with individuals in countless, nameless mobs sometimes prompted spontaneous conversations about heavy things. The urgency to relate on deeper levels cut through a lot of the small talk. I remember waiting for a crosstown bus, and one other lady was at the bus stop. Somehow we struck up a conversation, and before I knew it, she was talking about her feelings about a daughter getting married. We boarded the bus and continued the discussion. I remember looking at her face. Although the openness came more from her, I also felt seen. I felt a connection.

I blogged a lot more when I lived in NYC, through the heart of the Oughts, almost seven years. When I look back this habit of writing likely helped with my social skills. In 2008 I had made a goal to write every day. Didn’t have to be substantial content. Didn’t have a word limit. Just had to think of a thing to write about and write. I do believe I lasted the whole year. (I’ll have to double check the blog.) That daily routine prepared me for social situations, because I had practice quickly forming opinions about various topics. I had practice going through my day observing everything, storing ideas and writing prompts. Learning to look and feel beyond myself.

And now, I’m reading a lot more, experiencing the privilege of living vicariously. Seeing the world through diverse lenses in books and other media.

And while reading has done wonders for my empathy, it’s not quite the same as writing. I mean, both are different ways of listening, or at least processing the world. If I can find the words to write something, I can usually find a constructive, correlative action. Even if that means more listening. Which is the case, most of the time.

I think this post puts me on a 10- or 11-day streak of writing. And as parts of the country start opening up more with increased vaccinated populations, stepping out to interact with other humans seems really important. Looking people in the eyes as they relate their lives of the past year in isolation. The cabin fever, the anxiety. The sensitivity to light. The reflex to cower away from someone going in for a hug.

I don’t know: writing about it has helped me get to a more stable emotional place. I would like to think that it can help me help others to feel seen or listened to. Or cared about. Or loved.