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Monthly Archives: May 2021Image
It’s Tuesday, December 16, and I’m not in a good mood because I had only five hours of sleep last night, missed my exercise, no time for any kind of breakfast, and my schedule is packed with back-to-back meetings and appointments.
Driving to work on a familiar road as if on autopilot, my mind takes over and makes me anxious about all that I have to do before the holiday break:
- Faculty evaluations have to be completed!
- Search Committee for the Dean’s position has to wrap up!
- Deadline for my follow-up response to the Middle States Report!
- Reviews of journal articles due!
After I arrive at the office, encounters with colleagues throughout the day put my previous worrisome thoughts into perspective. As I speak with colleagues, I feel as if I’m opening a series of doors, and behind each door there is a human being coping as best they can with every ounce of strength they have. These realities make my worries seem small and self-absorbed.
- Door number one: Not getting along with spouse, fear that the holidays may be the time when things come to a head regarding their union.
- Door number two: Seeing psychologist after loss of a beloved dog.
- Door number three: Finding it too difficult to work and continue with doctoral program; will have to discontinue program.
- Door number four: Hates the holidays; depression is an issue.
- Door number five: Husband had an accident and may lose an eye.
- Door number six: Husband shot in the hand, victim of a robbery.
- Door number seven: Favorite cousin died; will be hard on the family during the holidays.
- Door number eight: Sister will have cancer surgery after the holidays.
As I listen to each person, I become increasingly aware of our connection and the flow of feelings between us as I physically sense my colleagues’ deep distress. I feel as if we are joined together in these moments by a salve of empathy and a balm of solace.
On my drive home, I reflect on what I heard from colleagues during the day.
Realizing the emotional burdens that each is carrying makes me wonder how they could have the spiritual strength to show up and keep moving forward.
And then I know how they—and all of us—keep moving forward:
Because we cannot allow random tricks of chance to crush our spirit.
Because sometimes our only option is to live through it.
Because, with faith, we can find the determination and resilience we need.
Because we all have to play the hand we’ve been dealt.
Because we’re all doing the best that we can with what we have.
Imagine six million people across the nation working together for one good thing.
On the sunny Sunday afternoon of May 25, 1986, we joined hands with strangers on Route 1 in Maryland to be part of the six-million-person human chain known as “Hands Across America.” We wore the t-shirts we received for donating $10 to end hunger in the United States. Swaying from side-to-side, singing “We Are the World,” made us feel like we were doing something to contribute to the cause.
Although we didn’t think it then, for those of us who returned home to make our regular nutritionally balanced dinner, our participation was all about us—our feelings, our Sunday afternoon outing, something to talk about with our friends.
Given our current days of reckoning around so many issues today—including hunger and what is euphemistically called food insecurity—I ask, “What did the raising of awareness and feelings of empathy in 1986 really do to reduce hunger in the United States in 2021?”
If we care about collective movements, we must assess and measure the long-term outcomes against our original goals. We must not participate in the heat of the moment and then return to the cocoon of our existence feeling that we have made a contribution to the cause.
Ask the question, “What did this raising of awareness and feelings of empathy really do to [fill in the blank]?”
Work and paperwork brought home from the office meant she didn’t get to bed until around midnight most nights. Reeling from exhaustion, she would fall into bed only to have her sleep disturbed by strange dreams. There were only a handful of days in a month that she didn’t wake up with a headache, nausea, backache, and/or stomach pain. Yet, she pushed through the sick feelings to do what was expected at home and at work. During an entire year, she missed only one day of work because of sickness, and she used this as an “opportunity” to catch up on paperwork. If only she had someone to talk to.
She drove herself to do more than required on her job and in her volunteer work. She was like a robot doing what she was programmed to do. But she was not a robot, and her body kept telling her that. If only she had someone to talk to.
Why the struggle? She was a mid-level administrator. From her perspective, being mid-level in the hierarchy of administrators explained the purgatory in which she lived. If only she had someone to talk to.
Though she could see the positive results of her efforts, she was denied a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction because, before the good feelings could register, someone would do or say something that would cause her to push back in anger or retreat into a lonely shell of self-doubt. If only she had someone to talk to.
She could not understand why people resisted doing their jobs. Her attention to this would bring on accusations that she was micromanaging, and that she was managing rather than leading. If only she had someone to talk to.
Whatever staff needed for resources, she fought to get. If they had ideas about how to improve support to students, she was all in. She encouraged innovations and saw more than a few of them become successful. No one could give more to the job than she did. If only she had someone to talk to.
When particularly antagonistic staff began to misquote her and tell her that she had said things that she had not said or—even more mystifying—that they, themselves, had said, she felt incensed. If only she had someone to talk to.
When her mind seemed to be becoming a mess of tangled ends, she began to ruminate on the Joseph Heller quote from Catch 22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” She thought, if only I had someone to talk to, someone who could see in me what I can’t see for myself.