Within mere minutes of Governor Patrick lifting the “shelter in place” order on that strange Friday last month, a friend texted me to see if I wanted to join a group of friends for an impromptu gathering. Inside of that hour I was leaving my apartment in Cambridge, climbing into the car and driving to where they were convening in Brookline. My friend’s text was the most welcome last-minute invitation I had ever received. Although I did not spend the day with these friends, we had all just experienced the same day—April 19th, the lockdown day, the day of the FBI manhunt in Watertown—and I wanted nothing more than to be with the people who, despite being physically elsewhere, had gone through the day with me.
Upon coming together, we fell into our patterns of connecting with each other. We sang, we ate a thrown-together potluck meal, and we bonded over our common experience of the day. But as we found each other in the commonalities, the differences in our experiences came into focus.
“Of course,” I thought to myself. I’m a Public Conversations facilitator and trainer. I think and talk about differences between people day in and day out. In certain ways, I saw this coming. Of course we would have had different experiences of the same day. But in other ways, because of my search for connection after what was for me a very isolating day, I was seeking sameness and lost sight of the inevitability of differences and (counterintuitive as it may seem) their connective potential.
Some of these differences were literal: we experienced the day from different parts of the city, were subject to different visual and auditory experiences, heard the news at different times and through different means, followed different types of media with different frequencies, were with different people and numbers of people in our homes through the day, and many more. These differences shaped our experiences significantly.
And yet even more profound were the differences in meaning-making between us. Who we each were and what we had each experienced in our lives when the day began had everything to do with how we’d been impacted by day’s end. For some, the surreality of the day resonated most. For others, it was a day marked by fear and instability. Yet for others, it was more akin to a snow day, with great care for those directly affected but an acknowledgement that they themselves were not. And still yet, those who had previously experienced terror or terrorism described being in deep relationship with the past, noticing both intense similarities and surprising differences between then and now.
It is a gift as a facilitator and trainer to relearn the principles and core values upon which my work is based. With no hesitation I could have told you on Thursday April 18th that in my view, we can connect with others through our differences as powerfully as we can through our samenesses. But on Friday I felt this truth for myself yet again. From my perspective, what it came down to was a commitment to finding each other. We had both the wish and the skills to seek each other out—in our commonalities and in our differences—and therefore to be together for real. From inside that variegated solidarity, I found the connection I had been seeking.