June 8, 2020

What I have learned so far this year … is not enough!

More than a year ago, I developed a habit of making notes at the end of each month and sharing them here halfway through the year and at year’s end.  Lessons big and small, silly and serious.  Much like the ebb and flow of life.

This year started like most others, but now things look extraordinarily different.  And in truth, I have some real trepidation about posting anything right now that implies I have learned anything of vital importance at this time.  Oh, yes, I have learned things.  But I have mostly learned that I do not know nearly enough about the things that matter to me.

Here is some of what I have learned by month in the first half of this very difficult and challenging year.  None of us could have imagined 2020 would unfold the way that it did, but the lessons we take from this time have potential to reshape our world for the better.  Stay with me to the end of my list to learn more about what I still need to learn!

January:  Vacation and its consequences

  • Two weeks of vacation time is better than one!
  • Quiet, easy and relaxing time with my spouse is a necessity, not a luxury.
  • Family events for the generation beyond my siblings are lots of fun.  I had the privilege of seeing my niece march with the Pride of the Southland Marching Band from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in the Gator Bowl halftime show.  What a trip, and what a talented group of young people.
  • Coming back to work after an extended vacation takes a lot of logistical planning!

February:  Family celebrations, health and the garden

  • It is a privilege to celebrate my mom — she turned 80 years old this month, and we threw her a party!  It was truly an event to remember, and she really enjoyed herself.
  • Attending to my own health and not just pushing through is a new habit I am trying to build.  It’s not easy to undo that work ethic of “just get the job done.”  Very important as we age — pushing through gets harder.
  • Planting spring lettuce and peas in the garden is a hopeful thing.  My grandmother taught me to get the first crop of lettuce out around Valentine’s Day.  This year, I managed to plant according to her timetable.  We’ll see what comes next.  I should have lettuce in March and peas in April.  Stay tuned.

March:  The pandemic enters our awareness in the US

  • Gearing down and staying home can be a time for exploring our inner life, with fewer distractions from the outside stimuli we are so accustomed to.
  • Isolation can be deadly, and even as we all are asked to do “social distancing,” we need to do as much “soul connecting” as our personalities require.  Some of us want more connection than others.  For those who need connection, seeking alternative ways to make those healthy connections is a key strategy in these unusual times.
  • I am grateful for my own health and health care team — I underwent major knee surgery this month and experienced the very best our health care system has to offer, even as the system was challenged by a public health crisis.  I want to express my deepest gratitude for my team at home and beyond.

April:  This is a long-term shift of all we thought we knew

  • We truly are all in this together.  Unprecedented changes around the world, and here at home are challenging all we believe about ourselves, our needs and our wants.  They are not the same thing!
  • I am fortunate to have a safe place to shelter at home, sufficient food and income, and a job that allows me to work from home without interruption.  Not everyone  is in the same boat, though we are all in the same storm.
  • Flowers and vegetables — and getting my hands dirty to tend to them — are lifelines for me right now.  And yes, the peas are blooming!
  • My dog is a dear companion.  Unconditional love, with the occasional demand for a treat, is a  true delight.  May I return the unconditional love to her and others.

May:  A shift in our awareness (I hope)

  • The big national struggle over whether we “open up” to save the economy or remain in “stay-at-home” mode to save people’s health is a false choice.  We must titrate our response on both sides of this equation, but if we don’t pay attention to science and biology, the pandemic will continue.  It’s both-and, not either-or.
  • Those of us who have been privileged to live without violence as a constant worry are learning the human cost of violence, privilege and systemic racism.  And many of us are in particular learning how much we do not know.  How will those of us who are privileged respond?  First, with an open mind and heart.
  • I watched the video of the death (yes, I believe it was a murder) of George Floyd.  I am left without any answers about how and why we have permitted this.  But I have no doubt that we have permitted it, and I have my own part in that permission to own and address.

June:  What I do not know

  • I cannot fathom the pain of watching and knowing that generations of a family have died at the hands of racist violence.  I have not lived this experience.
  • I do not know anything beyond the surface of our history of racism as a nation.
  • I ask myself, “who am I if I do nothing,” and then ask, “so what will I do?”  Here are my thoughts on that question:
    • I must educate myself.
    • I must listen without interruption and with my full presence when someone is willing to or needs to tell their story about these experiences
    • I must not assume that my friends and colleagues who are people of color should teach me anything.  If they are willing to and want to talk, I must listen, but my education on these matters is MY responsibility.
    • I am on a deepening journey to become visibly and consistently anti-racist in my speech, thoughts, behaviors and assumptions.

Moving forward

So, my plan for coming days, weeks and months begins with educating myself about the realities of racism and its true, lasting and deep impact on people of African descent, and on our society as a whole.  Here is a list of resources that will become my curriculum.

The most important thing I have learned in 2020 is that I do not know enough, and it is my first priority to change that.  Whatever else follows will be up to me.  I hope you will join me in this journey.

Your thoughts

What have you learned through these challenging times?  What is helping you learn now?  Please feel free to share in the comments and on social media.  I’d love to learn from what you are finding helpful.

Last revised June 9, 2020

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