Social distancing has not meant a slowdown in activity for me. My calendar is as full as it has ever been, mainly with Zoom meetings. Today I was on the platform from 9am to 4pm with one half hour break for lunch, and back on for happy hour from 5-6:45. People love to publicly hate Zoom, but I’ll cop to finding great solace in it these days. I’m an extravert, a fact that surely explains some of my enthusiasm, but there’s more. The three Zoom groups I love the most have renewed relationships and strengthened bonds; revealed the wicked senses of humor and deep compassion of people I previously knew only tangentially; and have allowed us to be authentic in new ways. Paradoxically, distance has created closeness. Regardless of how busy I am, I wouldn’t miss these three meetings for anything:
- My Vanderbilt classes. When the University switched to remote learning on March 16, I was all in on using Zoom to teach. My class meets for 2.5 hours each Tuesday, one morning section and 1 afternoon section, and we were 100% “synchronous” (along with PPE and aerosolization, a COVID19-era addition to my vocabulary) from day one. Seeing the students – many in their childhood bedrooms – is a highlight of each week. Their home circumstances vary, based on what I can see on Zoom and what they’ve shared in office hours, from poverty to luxury. That these differences are mostly imperceptible when we’re in person is a testament to the great equalizer that is the American university – and thank goodness, because their role in creating opportunities across the socioeconomic spectrum is a critical driver of the American dream. Yet this semester, as these differences are on stark display in Zoom backgrounds, I’ve earned the privilege of learning about them as people.
- My WeWork community team. By renting an office at a WeWork in Nashville’s hip Music Row, I’ve tapped into a community of some of the best people-people I’ve met. Our “Community Team” exists to help members with everything from leases to lattes, routers to reception. All energetic and uber-competent millennial women, these professionals exude empathy, warmth and fun. While our office and the other 2 Nashville Wework locations remain open with a socially distant skeleton crew, almost everyone is now WFH. But isolated? Not a chance. Our community builders par-excellence have dreamed up endless creative ways to keep us connected. One of these was a webinar I offered on Mindful Connectedness during COVID19, open to all Nashville Wework members. And on the big day, only the Community Team showed up. My disappointment that other members hadn’t bitten evaporated the moment we started talking. Because the 6 women on the call were colleagues, their camaraderie was immediate and authentic. We immediately got real about the sorrows and yes – even the joys – of COVID19-era life, and ended with a guided meditation. (A note – I am a devoted meditator and recently received a certification in mindfulness facilitation. It’s my new favorite gift to share.). It was awesome, and it’s now a regular Monday lunchtime thing. I look forward to it all week because my warm-hearted, exuberant community team absolutely crushes vulnerability and authenticity.
- The cousin Zoom. Unlike the other two, this Zoom is daily, not weekly, and comprises some combination of 4 first cousins who are all sisters, their only brother’s amazing wife, my 80-going-on-25-year-old aunt (their Mom) and my Mom. And also, lots of Zoom bombs from the 14 children between us, all of whom are now home. My cousin Polly schedules it for an hour and we always go over. I never want it to end so that’s totally cool with me. And we’ve always been close, but the daily Zooms or at least our vibrant text chains are COVID19-era inventions I secretly hope we maintain forever. We’re in Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee and mostly Maine, all of our home state and where we congregate without fail each summer. This lifelong tradition accounts for the unique closeness not only among us, but among our kids. I don’t mean to brag, but I won the cousin lottery. Seriously. The subjects we cover range from politics to what’s for dinner to speculation about When This Will End, from the isolation and fear my aunt faces being in an independent home within a senior living complex to each household’s toilet paper supply to the realization we’ve all had that making time for fake relationships feels impossible right now. All of it matters. As girls, my cousin Franny, two years older than I and the youngest of the 5 siblings, were summer ride-or-dies. As adults, the age differences – 4, 6, 8 years that once seemed enormous have now faded, and they are all among my absolute best friends in the world. The little cousin in me still looks up to them profoundly, no longer just for their cool bikes and hip haircuts, but for the beautiful and loving cultures they’ve each created in their own families. Part of me, I think, loves these calls so very much because if I listen hard enough, I just might absorb their tips on being the best Moms I know – and maybe even a great recipe.
So Zoom. Sure, I end some days glassy-eyed from staring at my screen, I groan at having to put in makeup and work clothes when I’m not leaving home, and I laugh at the Brady Bunch Zoom memes along with the rest of America. But truth be told, I love a lot about it, mainly that it allows me to love more people in more ways. And right now, given that I can’t figure out my new sewing machine, I have no healthcare skills and as a single Mom can’t responsibly leave home to volunteer at the Food Bank, I often feel crippled by guilt. I hate feeling that I’m not of service. A wise mentor coach observed that we serve best when we give from our own gifts. I would never claim that my own presence on these calls is a gift. But connectedness is a gift, one that I need today more than ever before. And thanks to Zoom, I have it.