There Is No Chance That We Will Fall Apart
“There is no chance that we will fall apart. There is no chance, there are no parts.” This was a poem by June Jordan that was introduced to me during the second week of being home. I heard these words during a virtual Friday night shabbat service with Mishkan Chicago and it has been my modus operandi for the past twelve weeks.
Wow, twelve weeks!
So much has changed in the world since then and yet, so much remains the same. When I left my classroom for the last time on March 13th, I did not think I would be writing this letter three months later and reflecting on our time apart.
I grieved for the entire ride home that night. I grieved for the unknown of when we would be physically put back together again. I grieved for the children, who even with a social story would not completely understand why we had parted ways for an indeterminate amount of time.
The first weekend passed and after several bouts of tears and near panic, I took some much-needed deep breaths and set my sights on where I could be a helper. This has been a recurring theme; “I see you, I hear you, I’m with you. There is no chance that we will fall apart.” My dear friend Brene’ Brown says that vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. If this wasn’t a prime time to show up and be vulnerable, right?
From the depths of my panic, yearning to connect and find peace, I needed to get creative.
Circle Time Live, Party Bus Tours to the kids houses, Facetimes, and making ridiculous videos to send out became my love language. Keeping connected and showing up kept me strong.
One of my biggest questions of late as an educator during this next phase and transition back to our community is how to embody that sustained connection and belonging? We base a lot of our communication on using our mouths. Smiling, lip reading, and the sounds of articulation we make to produce language. So, wearing a mask puts a significant barrier on one form of communicating, but only one form. I think about how often I’ve needed to pause to understand a child under previous circumstances, now add in this newly placed barrier of a mask.
In addition, how would the children, whom I’ve built lasting connections with in unique and fundamental ways over the year, particularly the last 3 months, feel safe? Would they recognize me? Would they feel that bond that we have developed in the past? These thoughts have nearly taken over my heart and my mind in the past weeks as we focus on what the next few months might look like.
Last Sunday, my friend’s daughter once again, taught me that the impossible is possible. Mask or no mask, this 5 year-old who communicates differently, managed to communicate in her own distinctive way. Through sound, gesture and body language, she had a full conversation with me.
How? Because not only do I presume competence in her and my students to be able to adapt and cope with shifts and turns and new changes. I presume my own competence to be able to adapt and learn from these experiences as well. I learn just as much from my dear students as they do from me and this will prove no different.
While wearing our masks, albeit very uncomfortable, we CAN have meaningful conversations. On Sunday, my friend’s daughter and I danced and cheered for all the growth and milestones she had met and surpassed these past few months, and all the while we noticed when we needed breaks to turn and breathe. We reflected on the gratitude we had to be together while acknowledging the frustrations of the barriers.
Communication comes in so many forms and each one is imperative to a feeling of belonging and inclusion. The sound of a familiar voice, the warmth of a ‘smeyes’ (smile with the eyes), engaging body language and calm energy communicates exactly what needs to be said without uttering a word.
All I want to do is grab my friends close and love on them. Since that’s just not in the cards yet, we made it a game and it worked out all the same. When I left my friend’s backyard that day, I felt full. I felt nothing but joy, and love. I didn’t need to see anything but their eyes to gain that sense of belonging.
We all have been forced to look deeper into empathy, inclusive practices, universal design and modes of communication. These factor into much of my constructive thinking most days but now we are all asked to model differently and provide a community of belonging with challenges unlike before. Presuming competence that we can push through and make powerful impacts is what separates our distinction between can’t and yet.
We have been leaders and we have been learners.
One of my students asked me over Facetime who my baby was. I said, “I don’t have a baby of my own, I have 104 JCC babies.” She giggled, but when I uttered those words a surge of adrenaline kicked in.
See, there IS a chance we as humans in all our emotions will fall apart, but what I have found is that which has fought harder than even the biggest emotion is community. This is where I find my strength.
‘There is no chance that we will fall apart.’ Our teams from top to bottom have shown up for us and held us together. I have worked for this organization and taught for 12 years and the feeling of belonging is ever strong and that is thanks to our outstanding work family.
Community is trust.
Community is belonging.
Community is connection.
Community is complex.
Community is diverse.
Community is about the people.
Community is not defined solely by a place, or a building.
Community is a feeling, it’s relationships. It’s family.
There is no chance that wee will fall apart,
There is no chance,
There are no parts.
– June Jordan
I’ll leave you with one more quote (I can’t even apologize for that, I love quotes.).
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt -The Man In The Arena
We are in this arena together, stronger than ever before. We have been catapulted into the unknown and there is more new territory to uncover. I am comforted by the protection of your compassion, vulnerability, resiliency and empathy.
It doesn’t matter what side of the city or suburbs we meet from, at the core, we are #JCCSTRONG.
— Rena Rosen
Educator, Bernard Weinger JCC