As much as we want our lives to fit into neat thematic blocks or narrative arcs, our days are mostly messy, our lives mostly zig-zag. We are not Sandra Bullock in a rom-com and this is not the end of the second act, with a soaring resolution just around the corner.
But every once in awhile, a theme does emerge from the chaos. And that's how I know it's time to pay attention. Not to get all woo woo on you, but for the universe to get through to me- a woman whose husband could cut the grass, shave off his entire beard, and rearrange the house without me noticing - that means it's really important.
So the theme that is emerging this week is connection. It started over the weekend when I was doing my biannual ironing session (you think I'm kidding, and that's cute) and listening to my favorite podcast, The Next Right Thing. On the podcast, Emily P. Freeman repeated this quote from author Shauna Niequist: "With people, you can connect or you can compare, but you can't do both."
I nearly dropped the iron on my foot when I heard that. GET OUTTA MY HEAD, LADY. Hello, lightbulb moment the size of Citifield. Thank you, laser beam of wisdom right between the eyes.
So I've spent the last couple of days rolling that thought around in my head, trying to replace all my comparison moments (how many zeroes are in a bazillion?) with opportunities to connect.
Here's the thing I realized: comparison is easy and takes absolutely no courage. Connection is hard (for me) and takes a lot of courage (for me). But...comparison feels supremely crappy, and connection feels super awesome. I know connecting comes naturally to some people, and guess what? When I compare myself to those people, I feel like a turd. On the flip side, there are things that come naturally to me (sarcasm comes to mind) that may take more effort for other people.
I figure if I can train myself to run a 5K, I can train myself to connect instead of comparing. Running and connecting both take effort and intention and are unpleasant at certain points but so worth it in the end.
So on day two of Connection Week, Hurricane Hysteria started setting in, and I got real cranky. Nothing stresses me out more than Hurricane Hysteria. But today I realized that, in spite of their awfulness, natural disasters bring authentic connection. We are all in this together, even when this is a real bummer.
I was sixteen and living in Chapel Hill when Hurricane Fran hit North Carolina. My family slept in the living room, and by "slept" I mean "listened to noises we didn't know wind could make" and "prayed our house wouldn't get smashed to smithereens by falling trees." The next morning my dad loaded his chainsaw into the car and we drove around town looking at all the damage. If a tree was blocking the street, my dad used his chainsaw to clear it. We reached out to our friends and assessed the damage. We connected.
So instead of being cranky and mentally checked out this week, I am going to try to see this hurricane as a chance to connect. Maybe we'll tell ghost stories and read by flashlight if the lights go out. Maybe we'll have a block party and clean out our freezers by grilling together. Maybe we'll get out the chainsaw (although Nervous Nellie over here has to draw the line somewhere, I mean jeez).
Today is September 11. It's a Tuesday, just like it was in 2001. I have the worst memory in general, but my recollections from that day are as clear as the sky was blue that morning. I didn't have much prior experience to base it on, because I'd only been living in New York for 12 days, but I remember people making eye contact that day and in the weeks after that day.
We didn't walk around pretending we were small islands on the bigger island of Manhattan. We looked at each other from across the train like, "W the actual F is going on?" We were all in it together.
The next day, there was nothing to do but gather. Everything was cancelled, everything was broken. I met up with a couple of other students in my teaching program, even though the semester had just started and we barely knew each other. We didn't even have anything to say, but it was comforting being with other people who were equally shell-shocked and raw. Being alone in my apartment and watching the news felt awful. Being outside with other people felt almost bearable.
We can compare or connect, but we can't do both. I hope I can continue to connect to people even after Connection Week is over, even when I feel shy and vulnerability feels scary, and even when it seems easier to wander through the comparison hellscape of Instagram. I don't want to have to go through another Hurricane Fran or 9/11 to wake up and remember that, when you really think about it, connection is all we have.
Photo by Raleigh News and Observer