Holding Space for Ourselves, Holding Space for One Another

Picture of buildings on the Chicago river at night

It’s been quite an AERA 2023. AERA ends my spring semester travel season and is the last of 5 conferences in 7 weeks. It has been a lot in this season, almost certainly too much.

So now, before I head back home, I am taking a moment to pause and reflect.

What is here for me, above all, is gratitude and a deep presence to my own humanity.

This particular conference comes at the end of a non-stop 10 days of trying to manage my life, administrative duties (at work), two conferences, hosting international colleagues, travel, and for half of it, time with my family. I have told multiple people that I have felt deeply as if this has been a season of running into a brick wall, bouncing off of it, blinking in disbelief, and then running full force back into it.

This is not sustainable.

There was a period in my life during which I would have looked at the lack of sustainability, acknowledged it briefly, and then excused it as just what had to be done.

But it is not that time.

I am learning about listening, taking in, and taking action. At least 5 people I love and/or work closely with have told me in the last few days that I look exhausted, that my energy is off, that I need to rest.

I am breathing and acknowledging that they can see me before I can see myself.

This has been a time of recognition. I have been seen and uplifted in many ways that I have not expected. I have been taking in how deeply and genuinely I am loved.

And in all of that, there are those who do not know me, do not love me, who, though we may share many identities & commitments, do not walk alongside me or celebrate my victories.

There was a period in my life where I would have tried harder to make myself into something different, to shape shift into something I perceived as better so that I could be seen by those who do not care to know me.

But it is not that time.

I am seen by so many and loved so well. It is my time to breathe deeply into my being and to hold space for others. It is my time to acknowledge that in my humanity, I will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I will make mistakes. There may be moments where I cannot show up, where I need rest, where I let someone down or do something that requires accountability. There will be opportunities that I can pass on to others. There will be times where I do not measure up to some external standard that I may not have agreed to.

All of this.

This conference, I have asked myself, “For whom will it make the most difference for me to show up? Where and with whom can I be the most present? How can my time honor myself and my commitments? How can I be honest about where I’m at with all of the things?”

I did my best. I attended & served as discussant at sessions of people that I love deeply and wanted to show up to contribute to, panels of early career scholars & graduate students (including a former student that I taught in middle school who is now in a doctoral program), sessions of friends who continually challenge me to dig deeper and be better. I had tea and brunch and dinner with others that I love and value, some of whom I have never met in real life. I met people on bridges and in bathrooms and hallways. I gave hugs as I waited for sessions & attended receptions. I met new people who knew me even if I didn’t really know them.

I didn’t do it all. I didn’t see all the people I love. I surely didn’t get enough time with some people I love deeply. But, I am proud to be going home having honored who I am in the choices I made and having been present in the spaces I was in. I am grateful for a bit of time at home with a family who loves me and lets me fly (literally & figuratively) in ways that are sometimes hard on their hearts.

I am breathing, writing in an airport lobby that hasn’t yet filled up because my dear sister-friend wanted to make sure I planned enough time to get here ┬áso I could get home. In doing so, I am grateful because things work out the way they are supposed to.

I will continue to breathe and be and not be everyone’s cup of tea, and honestly it will be okay, as long as I get to walk alongside my people and build in community and love.

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