"Take the job you would take if you were independently wealthy." Peter Buffet
Seriously? Well, some of us in my generation didn't get that memo. Dealing with this damn COVID-19 has been kicking that notion way beyond any ballpark of normality. My daughter has been laid off from her job, my son is working where he can because his work is gone and he's trying to still provide for his family (while being safe). The fear of touching anyone, touching anything without sanitizing, washing my hands so often they're turning another ethnicity, watching my earlier weight loss slowly begin to creep back. All of it makes me wanna just scream! If I had the job of my dreams, would COVID-19 make me feel any better? Well, I had to do something...fast, so I started hosting virtual tea parties. I needed to have a purpose that sent me beyond my day job (for which I am so thankful to have). I needed to feel in control of something. What I had listed in my Fellowship Plan was to understand the divide between youth and elders and to have a tea party for comfort. WELL! It May not be the dream I had in mind, but darn it, I created virtual tea parties with 5 younger women. When I asked those young ladies to assist with this project by being my co-hosts, each one eagerly agreed. What I discovered in the initial process - I had to do the creating and then bring them together to move forward with the planning. In doing so, my limited skills in technology surfaced, while the bit I had learned about running a Zoom meeting rose to the occasion. I learned from these ladies to "listen", but I also recognized they were leaning in to learn from me. This really did give me encouragement. We held two Virtual Tea Parties in April. The second one was 42 people compared to the first one of 35. Jumping ahead to May with 55. What did I learn? Darn...sure would be nice if I could host tea parties for a living because they not only uplift my spirits but others as well. I knew this shelter-in-place was starting to get to me and I had to do something to say HEY! I AM STILL ALIVE! Finding a task that I was passionate about re-ignited my inner spark. Not only that, but it has been a space for others to come and escape the madness of this "thing" for which none of us has the power to eradicate. Leading people into a safe space, sip tea, hear compelling stories of survival techniques, learn how to do a headwrap, see the beauty of a person's passion around quilt-making, hear the joy of a woman who has a tea business and feels she would be lost without that as her career, to hear a young woman speak of being raped at 10 years old at gunpoint, only to hear another one say, she too had been dealing with her own trauma from having been raped. OH! Did I say - these are MORE THAN JUST A TEA PARTY? Yes, they are. I just let them evolve into what's needed at the moment.
Life. Never know what direction it will take you. I was certain that in April I would be deeply into living out my Fellowship travels. I was scheduled to meet the second Buffet brother (Peter) in Kingston, NY April 6. That, of course, had to be canceled. I was to attend a Women's Mastermind retreat in Hilton Head, S. C. in April...it was cold and raining in Minnesota during that time. I was to begin my HBCU Tour making rounds to graduations in May...NOT! So, there I was, like everyone else in this world, devastated by the conditions of not knowing. Not knowing is a misery that I could not allow to overthrow my joy. So, I had to do the teas. The participants say, they appreciate my creativity. I say I appreciate them for coming and lifting me up. For a moment, we all can feel independently wealthy as we sip our teas, listen to each other, cry if need be, but mostly laugh at the "Spill the Tea" segment when people can share their deepest secret - fun or pain. I think of Maya Angelou after each tea party, "And still I rise."
Leadership is an act of compromise. This corona mess has forced us all to shift gears. Some have had to stop, while others have had to pause, just as others have had to ramp it up! My own life has taken on a bit of all of the above. While I appreciate not having to drive so much, it has been interesting working sometimes at a speed of 100 miles an hour. What once was a priority - keeping up with the news - had to be DROPPED! It was depressing as all get out. Learning to understand the Zoom platform doubled my workload for a good 3 to 4 weeks. This pace of being in front of my computer attending meetings all day long finally forced me to learn when to shut it off. What I discovered, even though I am fine with being isolated so to speak, I still needed company. In this virtual way of life, I have also become a bit more assertive. I learned to speak up when I do not necessarily agree with something, even if it seems like an expert who's leading. I am learning to hone in on my instincts better and not worry so much about whether my response will be wrong or right - it's what I believe until proven otherwise. That has happened several times during April. I could say it's because of old age, but I kid you not, I've had at least four people refer to me as having "wisdom" during recent meetings. I honestly do believe that being a Bush Fellow has elevated me into a micro Yoda among some of my colleagues in a way that I must say...I appreciate finally being valued. Here's where my wisdom really comes in - knowing when to shut up and not.
Sadly racism is running in high gear these days and it's really working my nerves. Sometimes the liberals are tougher to deal with than conservatives. Many either chose not to recognize how their whiteness is being flung around like long hair in the way by just casually flaunting their power of whiteness instead of cutting off the darn hair or pulling it back in a ponytail. This type of ridiculousness can be just as dangerous as overt racism. More recently, my compromise is to just (some days) go ahead and let the long hair be dramatically tossed because I'm sheltered-in and don't have to deal with the germs flying across the room because we're virtual. So, I let it slide. Then comes tomorrow and it starts all over again. This, dear reader, is where that patience thing I wrote in my Fellowship Plan comes becomes challenged. For tomorrow, if not careful, maybe the day when I just have to say, "STOP! Flinging your hair all over the place, it's bad for the environment. Just cut it off, please!" What does that say about my leadership? I want to get on with my Fellowship and can't! I want to see my grand-daughter and can't. I want to hug or touch someone, but can't. Thus the non-sense that should be eliminated is rapidly escalating and I have to keep on keeping on. "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." Fannie Lou Hamer.