Meaning in the Middle
Last night ended happily. My heart enjoyed tapping into the different people I met at our local Oktoberfest. Social distances observed, my mask on despite being outside, I talked and interacted with complete strangers in a capacity longed for these past several months
Little Emma stopped by my book table. We talked about mummies and research. I told her about indigenous people groups. She absorbed what I said and I took in her beautiful innocence. Emma is 11 years old.
I met Dolores at 84. Dolores served as a marine for 21 years starting back in 1957. She was kicking butt and taking names on many continents before I was even born. She showed me her original military id. Gorgeous and dangerous - that's Dolores. She's an amazing icon of girl power.
I met Tai, who escaped from Vietnam with his family back in '75. They lost everything - left behind what couldn't be carried. He used to be a gymnast, a French chef's assistant, martial arts student, oil painter...the more he talked, the more I saw the strength of growing up in a country that emphasized dexterity of hands combined with the tragedy of exile to rebuild, reinvent, and flourish. Tai knew the meaning of true grit.
Two of my students stopped by to say hello. Seeing them in person was joyous. We are together for the second of a two year course in research. Their smiles and beautiful faces weren't distorted with a computer screen stuffing them into a tiny, talking square. Their vibrant embracing of life has been missing in my classroom.
Diana took a moment to inquire about writing a book. She's a writer and her stories are about to be told.
The more opportunities I had to connect with people, hear their stories, learn from them, the more I began to understand how quarantine has robbed us of a vital truth in our existence. In class, we always look at how meaning is made. Bottom line, meaning does not evolve from just one person. It takes two. Somewhere in the possibility of being misunderstood lies the bridge to connecting one soul to another, an experience's understanding with an unrelated experience sharing a similar impact. Somewhere in the coming together of two minds, meaning shapes and pushes into being uniting us, helping us grow.
To relegate stories only to books misses out on the potential meaning we meet every single day. Lives that bump into our lives carry stories of conflicts overcome, failures learned, growth through disappointment and heartbreak. I tell my students we read to know we are not alone. Reading allows us to connect on a very intimate level where vulnerability can be risked. A book's grace can be found by closing the cover and walking away when the connection doesn't hold. A book's strength lies in the power to make us feel, to stir in us a recognition of the strength and power to overcome. In a book, two strangers connect finding common ground on the imagination's playground. Meeting another in the middle completes our sense of community.
In quarantine, we have been only half ourselves. Times of isolation provide opportunities for reflection and personal growth. However, seeing others at some stage in their own characterization and development through their own conflicts and obstacles inspires and encourages us to be that same role model for someone else watching our lives. Though not bound by a cover and not made up of pages, each of our lives share the stories of who we are - who we are still becoming. Life will make much more sense when we come together and share our stories one with another.
If meaning and purpose are cloudy and distant, pick up the phone, write an old fashioned letter, take a moment to connect in the safest manner for you, and breathe in the stories of the lives that bring richness to our day to day. The act of picking up a book is only slightly different than the act of saying hello. I for one can be found again this afternoon from 4-8 pm, properly social distancing, but soaking up the stories that stop by to say hi.