In Gratitude for Family Zoom

Like many families, when COVID hit our extended family circled the wagons virtually. We hosted a family zoom that met weekly, on Sunday’s. Since Grammy could not attend church – for the longest stretch of time in her 86 years – we met for fellowship, conversation, and information sharing. We learned how to make masks, current travel restrictions across the country, and where to purchase supplies should the toilet paper shortage turn out to be only the beginning of a modern day apocalypse, as one can never be too prepared. More than anything we met to see one another, to be comforted by each other’s presence and to reaffirm our connection and bond.

Every Sunday since March 2020 we have gathered for conversation. In May we celebrated graduations with virtual gatherings and slide shows. For Father’s Day we shared memories of my Grandfather and what stories we hold dear with one another. On birthday’s there are text chains and photos. And now like donut Sunday, we linger sometimes for hours as people leave and rejoin the conversation, share updates, and just feel the comfort and connection of family. 

We’re still working on vulnerability and sensitivity. The month of the election and its aftermath were sparsely attended and even then there were arguments and debates. Our solution was that we could debate, but conservatives had to debate the liberal position and liberals the conservative. Mostly, we just chat, celebrate promotions, personal victories, mock one another and egg each other on as only family does. If not not for COVID we never would have found the time or made this activity a priority, now it is a ritual we share and one that has made this year a little bit more bearable. 

As we step back into typical life, so too has our family zoom shifted to suit the times. Churches have reopened and Grammy has plans on Sunday once again and so the calls are later. And while we’re vaccinated and ready to return to our regularly scheduled programming this is one ritual I will be sad to see go – fortunately my family agrees as there has been no talk of cancelling.

Yes, being with extended family every week can be a bit much and now that we are not so starved for connection and entertainment the calls can sometimes drag. But I remain truly grateful for everyone who showed up on these calls. I’m grateful for those that didn’t show up because it reaffirmed our freedom to attend and engage at our own comfort level. And it reminded me that there is always a spot at the table for each of us. Even if someone chooses not to attend for weeks on end, we still hold space for their return while still respecting their boundaries. This willingness to embrace one another when times are tough gave me more than I realized I needed. I suspect our new way to connect with one another will last far longer than this pandemic and for that I am truly grateful.

Communicating with Authenticity

One of my resolutions in 2021 was to live with more presence and authenticity, to engage people from where I am and not from a place of insincerity or disingenuousness. 

The first piece is for me to be settled and grounded in who I am and what I am about. This in itself is a challenge as it forces me to slow down, reflect, and honestly consider my personal truth and how I want to show up in the world. I have found that showing up consistently with an open heart is a challenge but it gets easier with practice.

This arrival of myself as my whole self to conversations, meetings, and calls has led to shift in my own perspective. Instead of the performative me showing up, the one that wants to make you laugh, wants you to like me and is willing to compromise right from the beginning in order to make a new friend or please you has faded to the background. Instead when I arrive, I am already full, I know who I am and what I am about and a new question rises to the surface, the question is do I like you? What are you bringing to the table?

Where before I was consumed with how I was perceived I am now stepping into the role of a conscious observer. I am aware of how you are performing and what is being said, the tones and authenticity that others are bringing to our interactions. 

It’s cringe-y when someone does not present their whole self or when I can tell that the person on the other side of the call is being fake or just saying what they want me to hear not what they truly mean. Other times I might not have noticed this but now, now that I am looking at you to see you and not looking at others to see a positive reflection of myself, it comes to my attention. 

I am truly grateful to those with the bravery to show up as themselves with sincerity to conversations. I am disappointed when I am part of a conversation that feels contrived and false but I also can appreciate that not everyone feels comfortable or safe being their authentic selves at work or in the world. I’m grateful that I have taken up this practice. It has already taught me so much and revealed more than I knew I was missing. Like cracking an egg, I’m just now getting to the rich and beautiful insides of connection and communication, what a gift!

Catching up on my Correspondence

I wrote a letter to my cousin in bootcamp. I’ve taken to writing him every day, I realized I had a captive audience and hope my letters about weather patterns, books, and ideas give him something else to think about as he works long hard hours and listens to the relentless yelling of his instructors. 

I’m proud o him, but I was proud of him before he left. He’s a wonderful person and I’m sure he’ll make his way in the world. This is just a hard spot and writing him reminds me of the countless letters I sent to my own brother when he was in bootcamp and serving abroad. 

My personal favorite note came from my brother while he was serving in Iraq. I would write him about everything that happened in my day, just a daily drone of what life was like at home, how much I missed him, and what minor inconveniences were frustrating me at the time. 

I had apparently written about a copier mauling a report I was supposed to give and having to start all over, the tedium of office life for a young professional. He wrote back about how he completely understood because at his job today he was shot at. He was just going about his business lifting in the yard when he heard a ping off of one of the weights, he finished his reps then realized he was being shot at and had to hit the deck because some sniper was trying to kill him. He made the point that our days were so similar, just two young professionals going to work. The letter was fantastic and I am not doing it justice here, because I remember laugh-crying when I read it. He ended on something like, “if only you could ship the copier here, the the sniper could shoot at that and we could all go back to work.” 

Oh, it put my life in perspective. He always does.

I’ve started a new tradition too, when I write my letters to my cousin, I include a postcard with a small note of encouragement for whomever in his barracks did not get a card that day, or maybe never gets a card. Not everyone comes from a big family or from people who write letters but as they are all enduring daily challenges I thought it might be nice to know someone is thinking of you and I do say a little prayer for whomever gets the notes. I hold a space in my heart for the good people who are doing this difficult work, willing to be shot at so that I can comfortably cuss out office equipment in peace.