On this Thanksgiving Eve, I hope this message finds you finishing up the last few tasks before heading into a much-needed pause from your inbox and to-do lists.
As I do the same, I’m reminded of the days leading up to Thanksgiving break during my junior year of college. I arrived at my advisor’s office resolute that I’d stay on campus for the holiday. Facing crippling anxiety fueled by mounting deadlines and looming exams, the holiday break seemed to be a perfect opportunity to conquer a long list of projects and coursework I’d committed myself to. Thankfully, Professor Tomlan, one of the most astute and empathic listeners I’ve experienced, just looked at me and ever so slightly smiled. While in my mind my rationale was clear and convincing, he gently nudged me in a different direction: “Jenn, don’t let school get in the way of your education.”
I will never forget his advice because in the moment, I didn’t get it. I thought, "Maybe I wasn’t clear?" So, I proceeded to repeat myself, telling him again all of the things I needed to get done and how this was a great opportunity to catch up. He kept listening and smiling. (If only I had Professor Tomlan’s patience today.) And somewhere along the way, I began to second guess myself. His prompt led me to question my conviction. And I cried. I started to realize how easy it was, in the presence of overwhelm and hurriedness, to stop listening to what my heart needed. I was willingly exchanging precious moments of connection with solitude and to-do lists.
I left his office and reached out to a childhood neighbor to catch a ride to Connecticut. I learned to make space for rest and prioritize my relationships. I have to admit that I’ve had to learn (and relearn) this lesson many times, but I do believe that the person I am today would hitch a ride home every time if given the opportunity. And I'm grateful for this education.
In A Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield wrote about the mystery and beauty that happens when we allow our heart to guide our path: “It is possible to speak with our heart directly. Most ancient cultures know this. We can actually converse with our heart as if it were a good friend. In modern life we have become so busy with our daily affairs and thoughts that we have this essential art of taking time to converse with our heart.” How much richer would our lives be if, aside from working hard and chasing after our dreams, we gave ourselves permission to slow down, to feel gratitude, to celebrate, and to deepen our relationships with others? What would happen if that was enough? If you are looking for a sign to close your computer and be with your loved ones, here it is.
If you want to continue reading (before or after the holiday break), I’d like to invite you to celebrate our team, especially our Building Lead Jon Gruber, and our friends at New Pluralists, whose valiant effort to bridge divides in our country was prominently featured in The New York Times earlier this month! In a Sunday Review, editorial board member Farah Stockman wrote of the collaborative:
“Fixing what is broken in American democracy requires more than changing voter ID laws or the shape of our congressional districts, [New Pluralists] argued. It requires forging deep personal connections that will change hearts and minds and ultimately American culture itself.” This is where the powerful work of the New Pluralists’ Field Builders comes in to reduce polarization and reweave the fabric of our nation.
I am also excited to introduce you to Michael Rebell, founder of DemocracyReadyNY and one of our newest partners in our Bridging Strategy. As part of our Through the Prism series, Michael talks about the values that inspired him to pursue a career in law and education reform and the ways in which his children and grandchildren are giving him joy and hope. Relatedly, in this month’s reflections, our Bridging Lead Itai Dinour shares his experience participating in the Our Civics: Safeguarding American Democracy program on National Civics Day where he highlighted the vital role of universal civic education in building a more perfect union.
As we head into the last weeks of fall, I’m reminded of Parker Palmer’s essay on nature’s seasons in which he wrote, “Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn? She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring – and she scatters them with amazing abandon.” Amid the decay and the melancholic beauty of this season, we may not be fully attuned to the growth and possibilities that are happening all around us: fallen leaves returning nutrients to the soil that nourished their growth, insects and animals finding shelters underneath piles of leaves that cover the forest floor, acorns buried underground awaiting the gentle spring shower.
May you find the time to rest and connect with loved ones over stories that make us who we are. Even in moments of idleness, beautiful things are germinating for and around you.