I’m sitting at my desk for the first time in a week. No writing except for some posts on Instagram. There are no words that I could summon for the task. I don’t think they’re invented yet. Reaching deep, I can’t find them. The closest word I imagine is grief. A grief that is so huge I feel as though I’m drowning in it. I’m grieving for losing a particular person, George Floyd, in a particular time where losses of all kinds have and are accumulating at unprecedented rates. People. Jobs. Leadership. Losses that no one has publicly grieved.
The massive outpouring on social media in reaction to the events in my country is overwhelming and triggering. I see enormous pain from Black Americans. Much concern and outrage from others. I also see obsession and guilt. So many posts and words coming so fast, I fear I will be pulled into the undertow. I had a moment where I was. Fashion brands still not paying garment workers what they are owed, or hiring white diversity officers are posting frantically in black squares.
An authentic response comes from pausing, reflecting, and feeling your feelings. Guilt and anxiety are not the emotions that fuel and sustain the ongoing work of social change nor should they be the drivers of action. Love, hope, and optimism are some that can. These positive emotions come from empathy in the context of true, and not virtual relationships, with those who differ from ourselves. It comes from living with others over time in the real world, having painful conversations where you listen and hear things it is difficult to hear. It is learning to see the world through the other person’s eyes. As Dr. Sherry Turkle reminds us through her important research cellphones, and constant engagement with social media actually interfere in the development of empathy. Here is a link to her work on this, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age.
I’ve been shifting my attention to powerful photos with no words. Images that let me sit with them, expecting no response, making no demand, except to feel something for which I have no words. When I find them again I know I will mourn the loss of my classroom, space where these kinds of conversations could happen. Where they did happen. Where I could listen and learn.
Writing here, talking about our feelings and ideas is what has helped me manage and cope during the time of the coronavirus. This is my safest public space. Because you always take the time to thoughtfully and authentically respond and comment this has become a classroom of sorts. So amid the greatest time of uncertainty I’ve ever experienced during my lifetime and feeling raw and vulnerable, I remembered that.
In writing today to meet my weekly commitment to you (even though a few days late) I’ve been able to gather myself up and re-find my center. For that I thank you. Stay safe and be well.
Please take a moment to remember George Floyd, his family, and children today.