In some ways, we will always be different. In other ways, we will always be the same. There is always room to disagree and blame, just as there is always room to take a new perspective and empathize. Understanding is a choice. Vironika Tugaleva
My day planners arrived last week – the one with The Little Prince cover for OnTarget Consulting. Light brown Corgis for Salt Water. They sit on my desk, awaiting 2021, a small, defiant act of hope. That we will be able to gather, break bread, listen to live music, hug each other, travel freely.
Although Zoom has proved to be a Band-Aid blessing, it is a poor substitute for human touch and in person interaction. The camera reveals so much – our makeshift offices, what hangs on our walls, the other humans in our space, the not-to-be-denied needs of our kids and pets, yet it hides what matters most. Is she looking down to make a note, check her phone or because she’s upset? Is his video off because he’s eating breakfast, offended by a colleague’s comment or left the room entirely? Without asking, it’s impossible to know.
I spend my hours on Zoom distracted by what I see in the boxes. Little windows into our lives with far more on display than we realize. It took people remarking on my love of Bob Marley for me to turn my chair and realize my backdrop was Jimmy’s tricolor Marley flag and a photo mosaic poster of Bob smoking. Or my friend Diane telling me how distracted she was before I straightened Jimmy’s Hero Award in its black frame. I was too busy examining everyone else’s backdrops to notice my own. The beautifully appointed dens. The French doors to the backyard. The shelves full of carefully curated keepsakes and brightly colored books whose titles I can’t quite read. Downloaded backgrounds of longed-for vacation spots or iconic imaginary settings like the conference room in The Office, the coffee shop in Friends or the purple couch from Family Guy. Images that shimmer and pixilate as the real people in front of them shift and move.
I miss the solid certainty of being together in the same room. Trapped between no longer and not yet, we’ve been forced to let go of so much of what we took for granted. Freud may be right about maturity being the ability to live with ambiguity but the death of one of your essential people gets you there, too. This liminal space is familiar, if unwelcome. I spent eight years here while Jimmy battle brain cancer, only to find myself here again after the shock and denial over his death wore off, wondering how to make a life in the barren aftermath.
But there’s a gift in forced isolation or falling apart and patchworking yourself back together. You develop a clarity about what matters, about who matters. You look past failings, stumbles and mistakes to the heart of another person. You bond over your loneliness, anxiety or grief instead of focusing what divides you. You reveal your anger, fear or frustration, only to hear a chorus of “me, too … me, too … me, too.” You stop noticing the mess on the table or how much longer it takes to get something done. When the other person’s cat sits in front of the camera or your conversation gets interrupted by a high-pitched voice insisting on help with a math problem, you pause and smile, remembering all the times that you, too, have been interrupted or distracted on a Zoom call.
Both distance and loss make connection more challenging, but understanding is still possible if we choose to embrace it. When life is good and we can gather freely, it’s easy to zero in on the ways we aren’t alike, but there’s something about grief and our lonely little Zoom rooms that can have us appreciating all the ways we are the same. Hardship and loss remind us that we’re all just doing the best we can in a messy, painful world and the best way forward is to stay close and stick together.