"Back to Work"
I went back to work on November 1st. I'm quite positive I lost a lot of folks money who bet I wouldn't come back - but I came back, and I knew I would for multiple reasons. It's not because I had to, that was one thing the 3 months taught me - I could definitely survive if I took the jump, but there is a season for everything and now is not that season.
It took me a while to write a blog on what it is like to be back. It is the one conversation everyone wants to have - the blog that most folks were interested to read. I waited to write a blog on the topic because I needed to give myself time to really process it all and what it means.
The day I came back to work, I instinctively went to the Jersey City office where my team is based. I was there for only an hour when my manager called and asked me to come to the New York office because there was a project he needed me to get involved in straightaway. Time to swim. I hopped on the first conference call and had no idea what anyone was talking about. It was like they were speaking a different language that I knew but had not spoken in a long time. I was fumbling over my words and my comprehension was slow from trying to translate vaguely familiar acronyms and terms into regular-people speak . I wasn't disappointed or irritated by being back I just felt awkward, off my rhythm. My questions didn't feel insightful and my statements didn't feel well-articulated.
By Day 3, I was beginning to become a little more familiar. Things were coming back - that good ole' left brain started kicking again. Doing what I do best and actually really enjoy - analyzing things, picking up on patterns that didn't make sense, thinking three steps ahead about what would drive the most efficient outcome. But at the same time, I felt like I was slowly losing the peace of mind that had taken me so long to find during my 3 months. Not from the standpoint of being stressed, I wasn't stressed, but my ability to be fully present in the moment was waning. During the sabbatical, I developed a really useful discipline of focusing on one thing at a time. If I'm painting, I'm painting - I'm not thinking about other things. If I'm out to drinks with a friend, I'm 100% focused on engaging my friend - I'm not worried about what I didn't do today or need to do tomorrow. Presence. Where am I right now? I'm here. With her. With him. Holding this glass. Having this conversation. Listening to this song. I'm angry. I'm sad. I'm content... Awareness.
By week 2, I started losing sensitivity to the fact that I was even allowing myself to be distracted. While on Day 3, I could feel the temptation creeping in, by Week 2 it was no longer a temptation, it was my operating mode - being on conference calls while emailing, instant messaging, texting, and talking to other people while on mute. My attention was spread 6 different ways at any given time. Even outside of work, I was finding myself scrolling Instagram and checking email while on the phone, not because I wasn't interested in the conversation but because I felt uneasy just being still.
By the end of week 2, I felt myself getting irritated by little things again, things that probably shouldn't matter. When I paused to ask myself why I feel so deeply about whatever is bothering me, I had a hard time locating the actual feeling and it's root. My "auto-suppress" function had returned and swiftly filed the feeling away in the storage room in the back of my brain without me even knowing. Wow... It took me 3 months to reach full peace of mind and only a few days to undo it. Hold that thought...
Week 2 of my return was also election week. I came home from work Tuesday evening, turned on the polls, saw Trump was up, and thought there is no way he is actually going to win. Michigan is still out, so is Ohio, and a couple other states. I fell asleep unbothered because I knew that I would wake up and see Hillary had won by a respectable margin. Instead, I woke up to a text from my girlfriend who said "What are we going to do?" My response was, "About what?" She said, "Tump won."
What just happened? Is this really where our country is? Are there really that many people in America who hate blacks, Mexicans, women, and Muslims? Or are there just a lot of people (47% of the population to be exact) who are indifferent towards racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic messaging? We spent 8 years as a country reveling in our culturally significant accomplishment of putting a black man in the Oval Office. Views on foreign and economic policy aside, we thought that the last 51 years of work since the Civil Rights Act had put us in a place of true forward progress. But much like my sabbatical, it only takes one election day to undo 51 years of progress.
I got on the subway the day after election day and it was the weirdest experience ever. No one said a word. It was 815 in the morning, and I was riding the normally packed and noisy A train to work... It was still packed with people, but you could hear a mouse piss on cotton from Bed Stuy to World Trade Center. Folks were angry, folks were hurt, folks were afraid - and folks were silent. The only time in the entire 30 minute ride someone said something was at Hoyt-Schermerhorn St. station in downtown Brooklyn. A middle-aged white woman was getting on the train and yelled out "EXCUSE YOU!!" to a younger white man who was also getting on the train behind her. He looked at her and said, "What's the matter lady?" She said, "You stepped on my heel getting on the train!" He calmly replied, "Ma'am, I didn't step on your heel. The man getting off the train did." He carefully put his earphones back in his ears and joined the silent chorus with the rest of us on the train. The woman looked at him and said, "I'm very sorry, I'm not in a good a mood today, for obvious reasons." She looked around as if looking for validation of her sentiment from other riders. A few folks nodded subtly and a few others cracked a forced smile, but no one said anything.
I found myself looking around the train, trying to identify who looked a little too relaxed. Who looked too happy for the tragedy that had just occurred. Who looked like they might be racist? How did it come to this? How did I go from assuming the best in my fellow New Yorkers on the train to looking for enemies, overnight?? You can't identify a racist by just looking at them. But that is the kind of division this event created. Eight years of hope and unity seemingly undone overnight. I pondered the thought as we approached my station and considered it a lesson learned: Maintaining your peace is a decision, a choice. You can work so hard to find it and then decide to give it a way in an instant. I got off the train, walked down Murray St. to my office and then just thought to myself, "Back to work." - DH