“But what do you love to do?”
JC has stopped me in my tracks with his question. We have been sharing our respective histories and current engagements with activism and social justice, and I am suddenly and unaccountably inarticulate.
Here I am a couple of hours later trying to understand why.
I met JC Faulk as a facilitator of conversation circle events several times over the summer months, and we had spoken before. Long enough to discover our shared admiration and debt to Edie and Charlie Seashore, who had trained both of us in group skills and diversity work, albeit a half generation apart from one another. An unexpected intersection, rich with a shared understanding of group process.
Red Emma’s, where we met over breakfast, sits at its own notable intersection. Charles Street runs north-south. It is typically described as “Baltimore’s Main Street,” “a historic cultural corridor,” ripe for development and redevelopment, and “a place where people want to live.” North Avenue, which crosses Charles Street just outside the door, runs east-west. It is “targeted for revitalization, improved safety, economic opportunity and access for residents.” This corridor gained notoriety for the Uprising that took place about two miles west of here in April 2015. These corridors can easily stand in for the city’s racial and economic fault lines. Red Emma’s sits at this intersection, drawing a mix of customers from both corridors, a stew rich with possibilities. A rarity in Baltimore.
I have just written myself to a new understanding. Now I see that I am pinned by his question at my own intersection:
Who I am and who I wish I was. Who I am and how I’d like to see myself: more skilled, more willing, more courageous, tougher and more empathic, grittier and more loving, ready to put not just my voice but my body on the line. The for-real Sara and the idealized Sara. The Sara who wants to make a difference in the world, be a difference in the world and thinks she has to be some other person to do this. The Sara who has just effectively devalued her life’s work.
And oh, my. The fact that I have crossed and recrossed this bridge with pretty much every single client I have worked with over the years does not save me from the same dilemma.
Now that I have named this problematic intersection, here’s my answer, JC:
I love to write. It helps me to see myself more clearly, to see myself whole. When I share my writing and hear back that it has helped some readers see themselves whole, I am nourished even more.
I love to explore life’s challenges with another person, to see the light come on in someone’s eyes. See a face soften, a body relax or straighten up as it needs to. A flash of understanding. The “oh,” or the silence that says: I really get that, I get that in a way that restores me to something essential in myself, I get that in a way that I can make a different choice, I get that in a way that I see you in a fresh way. I love to travel with someone as she takes root in herself, breaks through hard soil, and unfolds towards the sky.
I love to play a role in a community that shares a clear focus and intention for a common good. Every such group is an intersection of differences rich with possibilities.
I love to work with people who are ready to talk, and want practice. Help design welcoming and safe but not bland or superficial group meeting spaces. Where strangers can build lasting and resilient relationships over time, become allies and friends. Where we human beings can show up with our strengths and limitations. Grant one another dignity. Listen to and tell stories. Learn and teach. Be together in “we don’t know.” Shed tears and shake with laughter. Drop through anger and fear and open to heartbreak. Stand together. Grow, grow up, grow in self-responsibility. Build the generosity, willingness, fortitude, trust to have one another’s backs.
And by nourishing connection in these ways, draw down grace. Because when we humans come into relationship, especially when that relationship is big enough to hold our differences, the world does respond and signal.
I love to work with practice groups, where we can practice being imperfect, genuine human beings together, and carry that out into our lives.
Thanks for asking, JC.